Wednesday October 8, 2008
West Main Street — once a string of mostly vacant and decaying buildings but now a vibrant district of museums, cultural attractions, restaurants and bars — has been named one of America’s Top 10 Great Streets by the American Planning Association.
The association, based in Washington D.C., cited West Main for its history, architecture, cast-iron facades and the unique sense of place it conveys to locals and visitors.
“West Main’s successful revitalization didn’t happen on its own,” said APA executive director Paul Farmer. “It requires visionary planning, dedicated public leadership and public and private investment.”
“Main Street is a true treasure in Louisville,” Mayor Jerry Abramson said. “West Main defines who we are as a city. Those beautiful 19th Century buildings, with their unique cast-iron facades, are part of our history – and they are our future.”
West Main was Louisville’s first street, established by pioneers who settled the area in 1779 and two years later completed Fort Nelson. The gates of the Fort were located near what is now Seventh & Main.
Following the Civil War, Louisville experienced a building boom that led to the construction of the cast-iron facades, making Main Street second only to the SoHo area of New York City for the number of cast-iron facades.
With the growth of the railroads and the decline of river traffic, especially steamboats, activity shifted away from Main Street. New life came to Main in 1973 when a group of local architects formed by the Louisville Chamber of Commerce and headed by Jasper Ward and Bailey Ryan commissioned a study to identify ways that could revitalize Main.
The Kentucky Derby Festival, under the direction of Jack Guthrie, who was also part of the Chamber committee, moved its offices to 621 West Main Street in early 1974. In March of 1974, West Main was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
A year later, in May of 1975, a group of business and civic leaders, headed by Biff Roberts and Cornelius Hubbuch, formed the Main Street Association. The purpose of the organization was to carefully watch over the growth and revitalization of the area and to make sure its historical significance was never compromised.
In 1990, the Louisville Downtown Development Plan called for West Main Street to be the center of Louisville’s cultural arts district and for sidewalks to be widened and for art, including cast-iron tree guards made from bronze walking sticks, to be incorporated into the streetscape. That project helped kick-start a revitalization that continues today.
West Main is now home to Louisville Slugger Bat Factory and Museum, Muhammad Ali Center, the Frazier International History Museum, the Louisville Science Center, the Kentucky Center, the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts, among others. Actor’s Theatre of Louisville is just a few blocks away. Numerous creative firms, ranging from advertising agencies to architectural firms, have located along West Main, as have restaurants and retail stores.
To celebrate the Great Street award, several events are planned this week along West Main.
- On Thursday, many of the bars and restaurants on West Main will offer drink and food specials.
- On Friday, the Main Street Association will have its annual progressive dinner. See http://www.mainstreetassociation.com/ for more information.
- On Saturday, all the museums and cultural attractions along West Main are offering buy-one, get-one free tickets to all Louisville and Southern Indiana residents who show their IDs.
“We in Louisville have known for years that West Main is a treasure for our city -- and now others have discovered our secret,” Abramson said.
The 10 Great Streets are:
2008 Great Streets in America
· 7th Avenue (Ybor City, Tampa, FL)
· Broad Street ( Philadelphia, PA)
· Clarendon and Wilson Boulevards (Arlington, VA)
· Commercial Street (Portland, ME)
· Main Street (Annapolis, MD)
· Mill Avenue (Tempe, AZ)
· South El Paso Street (El Paso, TX)
· Summit Avenue (St. Paul, MN)
· Washington Street (Boston, MA)
· West Main Street (Louisville, KY)