Downtown Louisville

Core Stroll

Rules

You're taking this tour AT YOUR OWN RISK. Cross the street only at crosswalks. Put your phone down when crossing the street. Be aware of cars and other pedestrians. If you're walking slowly, move out of the way. Do NOT stand in the middle of the sidewalk.
These are good rules for any downtown. Just remember, if you get squished it is your fault.

Table of Contents

Start

Make your way to Fourth Street and West Muhammad Ali Blvd.

Fourth Street

38.251111 -85.757510
Check the Map
Start on the corner in front of the Seelbach hotel. You will see a CVS across the street on your right (East) and the Fourth Street Live! sign on your left (North).
There are three Points of Interest in this section.

Skip to
Liberty Street

On the remaining corner, diagonally across the intersection, you will see a tall white building.

Squinting at Lions.

That is right–our very first building has lions! Unfortunately, they are twelve stories up so you will likely be squinting through a camera.

Now squint at the details on the third floor. From this distance and angle–and with some imagination–they look a little bit like Caryatids.

You will see this a lot. I simply do not know why the designers put the best details so far up.

Cross Muhammed Ali Blvd to the Fourth Street Live! sign. This stretch of Fourth St. is pedestrian-only, so you can walk in the street as well. Feel free to wander to get a better view of the white building.

Same details, closer.

The lower floors have terra-cotta details. We can better see those story-tall bracket details and their swags which look like outstretched arms.

Standing in the middle of the street, face North and look upward.

An arcade.

But not for games. In olden days–before malls–streets could be covered by glass to protect shoppers from the elemnts. Before we go inside, do you think the enclosed area feels different from a regular city street?

Walk into the covered space and look up.

The roof.

The roof lacks the Victorian details but how often do people look up?

The light is different, I think the ambient sound is different, and the space FEELS different. It does not feel as tight as Underground Atlanta but it also does not feel like a city street either.


Look up and to your right. Stop at a light brown building with bow-like details below the roof line.

Bows?

Or something frilly.

They are large and unusual. The deep overhang just above is not. It has standard architectural details, and perhaps the only unusual thing is that EVERYTHING is the same shade of brown.

Liberty Street

38.253060 -85.757108
Check the Map
Enjoy all the touristy goodness as you make your way North to the next intersection. You are now at Fourth and Liberty.
There are two Points of Interest in this section.

Skip to
Third Street

When you get the Walk signal, cross to the North side of Liberty Street. Turn right, walk under the pedestrian bridge, and stop just before the wide parking deck entrance.

Look at the building directly across the street.

Eagles!

Lions are the KINGS of architectural critters, so it is always a surprise to see a different species. These guys are big and not too far away.

Oh yeah. Notice the second floor details below the eagles. You have the plain medallion, Pilasters and Dentils on either side, and a Swag at the bottom.

Seriously. Lions are EVERYWHERE.

Continue to the next corner and look right again.

A clock.

Normally, you see clocks like this on department stores. This building, however, is a Post Office.

Third Street

38.252926 -85.755513
Check the Map
Continue to the intersection and turn left.
There are three Points of Interest in this section.

Skip to
Market Street

Walk to and stand under the pedestrian bridge. Look across the street.

A doorway.

Notice how the door is so much more ornamented than the rest of the building. There is some decoration at the roof, but it is mostly obscured by the bridge.

WHAT ARE THE SPECIFIC DETAILS?


Continue to the intersection and cross the street when you have the signal. Walk under the building to the next intersection.

Going under.

HOW CAN I COMPARE THIS TO THE ATL VIADUCTS.

Diagonaly across the street you will see a highly ornamented brick building.

Arches, a tower, and bats?

SOMETHING
You probably want to get a closer look. Go ahead, but come back to this corner.

Market Street

38.255030 -85.755090
Check the Map
Turn left to continue down Market Street.
There are eight Points of Interest in this section.

Skip to
Fifth Street

The convention center is on your left, but we will be looking at buildings across the street.

Stop before you get to the fifth building–it is the tall building with the light beige bricks on the side.

Bensinger building

The slanting horizontal shadowline above the windows is a scar from a building that no longer exists. Also notice how those three vertical details just stop. And, look closely at the front corner–the change from the beige side bricks to the more saturated front bricks is like going from Kansas to Oz.

The front is covered with terra-cotta. Notice how it get more detailed and colorful only near the TOP of the building.


Continue to the intersection. You need to get to the corner that is diagonally across from here. You can cross at Fourth or Market, whichever has the most convenient signal, then the other.

Walk past the building that Looks Like a Parking Garage But Is Not, and an alley. Stop at the building immediately to your right.

Lincoln Bank and Trust

It does not look at all like a traditional bank–where are the columns? It does have some nice details, which are hard to see from this side of the street.
We will be across the street soon, so you will have a chance to get some better photos.

Walk to the building to the immediate left.

Details!

How does a building that is so small have so many details?

There are pilasters, ornate capitals, medallions, decorative blocks inside the arch, and various sizes of dentils. There are also three important details.

1. The Eagle. I know, lions are EVERYWHERE and all we have seen are eagles. Just wait.

2. Look closely at the capitals, just below the flowerpots. There are FACES.

3. Look above the arch and and molding. There was a line of text (a name?) in that horizontal section. It is just holes and some contrast now. Can you read it?


Turn around and look across the street. There are four buildings on the corner. Look at the yellow building on the left.

Yellow!

Floors 3-5 have large windows divided by two twisted taffy-like columns; the capitals are flower-shaped.

The topmost floor is the most interesting. The three small windows are framed by moldings that resemble picture frames; they could be paintings or mirrors hung on a wall. The molding above them has almost no plain surfaces and the four brackets are oversized as are the headdress details at the very top.

Normally it is good to have color contrasts but in this case the details are strong enough to pop past their monochromatic color scheme.


Now look at the next building to the right.

An arch and a date.

Notice how this building needs contrast. These details would fade if they were the color of the walls. The arch on the top floor has no ornamentation but is the most visible element.

Above, there is a date in two medallions.


Look at the wide building to the right.

Monochrome.

Which detail do you notice first?

Probably the four vertical window bays that are topped with a arch. And that is because of the large dark windows and the shadows from the recessed areas.

What you may not notice right away is the smaller ornamentation within the arches. They are filled with foliage and each has a face--a female face in the lower arches and a male one in the upper. Now imagine these details painted, or in terra-cotta, so they are in contrast to the bricks.


Turn back to the your right and walk to the corner. The next stop is the building you are facing across the street.

Now this looks like a bank.

The plain but solid walls, those columns, the heavy pediment, and the tall foundation all make this building feel very secure.

Before we cross the street, look at the building that is diagonally across the intersection.

A fortress.

Imagine this building as a castle.

Notice how the first floor is clad in a lighter stone, and how the cornice running around the top makes it look larger than the upper floors. It seems more like a foundation, with the fortress or keep built on above it. The rough-faced stone blocks add more solidity, as do the smaller windows.

Off to the right is an extension of the first three floor; this adds to the foundation feeling and the upper floors are even more like a keep.

And the lookout room and tower on the roof, along with the corner location, do SOMETHING!

Fifth Street

38.255412 -85.758420
Check the Map
Cross the street to those three buildings we looked at before; it is time to see them up close.
There are six Points of Interest in this section.

Skip to
Jefferson Street

Walk over to the yellow building. You will walk past a bus stop.

Photo ops.

If you want, you can get some photos of the two buildings across the street and the yellow building. Do not go past the bus stop.

Walk to the side of the bus stop. The buildings will be on your left and the street to your right. Look up and to the left.

Detective work.

See those two awnings? What do you see between them?

Some interesting details? Yes, but...

A lion.

Finally.

He does not look happy though. Maybe it is that he has only a head while those eagles get full bodies. Maybe he does not like being squeezed by the awning. Maybe it is because the other lion head (they usually come in pairs) is missing and he is lonely.


When you are done taking photos, walk back to the corner and turn left.

A fortress, part two.

Now you get to see a contrast. The center section has smooth stone faces and lots of carved details. Compare these to the rough stone blocks.

The rough stones are ready to repel an invading army while the smooth stones would not look out of place in an elegant city.


When you are done, go back to the corner again and cross Fifth Street to the fortress. We will be looking at the buildings across the street but they are better seen from this side.

The second building looks like a narrow version of the fortress.

A skinny castle.

It has a solid (and tall) foundation, with a strong arched entrance. The smooth wall separate the foundation from the rest of the building.

The eight narrow windows could be four very tall windows. The arches, turrets, and Gables (with their tiny windows) make it seem that this is something more than a regular downtown building.


Continue to the next building on the right.

Details.

The light stone details certainly pop against the red of the walls. But what is that in the center of the second floor?

A ram head. Why? I have no idea and no idea why the round area below it seems to be missing something. But look above it on the second floor. What is there?

A pair of Gryphons, and a very tiny Gryphon in the center above them. And two faces directly above the Gryphons. Now, see the horizontal cornice just above them? Look at the ends of the two shorter sections.

There are more faces. And we are not done. Look at the vertical columns placed between the sections--they are braided, have pairs of fishes at the top, and more faces at the bottom.

See what looking up gets you?

Continue looking at the next five short buildings. Stop so you can see the brick part of the tall building on the corner.

Even more details.

What to notice:

1. The building name above the door.
2. The detailed arch above the door and the multicolored bricks.
3. The cornice at the roof line.
4. All the little details.
5. How short this building is.


Look up.

Tall!

Were they expecting a taller neighbor? It seems a shame to leave all that brick exposed when the sides facing the streets are decorated. It just looks odd. And it is probably more visible when walking down the street than the decorated side.

Walk over to see the just the decorated side.

A bank or an office?

The first four floors definitely look like a bank, with that solid foundation, the iron girded windows, and those massive columns.

Then it turns into an office building.

Jefferson Street: West

38.254027 -85.758704
Check the Map

The first stop is the Courthouse building on your right.

Government building 1

It has a large set of stairs, even larger columns, and no real decoration. This is a good time to rest your eyes and just take in the shapes and volumes.

When you are ready, walk to the corner and look at the building directly across the street.

Government building 2

This is City Hall and it does have details--enough to share with the courthouse. Starting at the bottom, the foundation floor is partly below grade and clad in rough stone blocks. This elevates the main floor above the sidewalk.

Next is the entrance. Each floor has three openings, surrounded by Pilasters. The lower two floors have matching columns to support the porches above them. Notice how the capitals reflect the style of detail in the cornice above. The third floor area is left uncovered as a setback; having the triangular Pediment pushed further out would feel imposing. And, the Pediment SOMETHING inside.

Now, look at the arches above the windows on the middle floor. More heads!

There is a clock tower to the left, but we will look at that later.


Go back to the corner and cross 6th street to City Hall. Walk to the short set of stairs at the base of the clock tower.

A close up view.

Look at the arch above the door. The Keystone has a very stern gentleman glaring down at you. He has an unusual beard. Are those leaves?
There are more animal heads on the second floor.

Continue to the next building. It has a collection of really big columns.

The Annex.

Look up at the columns in the corner. Sort of busy up there, huh? And all those vertical lines (Flutes) coming down like a waterfall. Those lines are echoed in the lamppost as well.

Which leads us to the Eagles. They are smaller this time, and look a little ferocious.

Okay, eagles--not lions--are EVERYWHERE. On this stroll.

Continue to the very next building. It is brick colored.

Completely brick colored.

This is your chance to see some details very close up. There are the leaves at the bases of the turrets, the branchy bits above the arches, and the Fire Department medallions.

Continue to the corner and look at the tall building diagonally across the street.

Another tower.

We normally ignore modern buildings but this is an exception. The main building is just a building but there is a round room topped with a crown-like detail sitting on six very tall and slender columns.

You just do not see that every day.


While we are here, look at the blocky building to the left and across the street from the tower.

Brutal.

This bunker-like style of architecture is called Brutalist and not everyone is a fan. It looks solid and imposing and secure and completely uncomfortable.

Jefferson Street: East

38.254377 -85.761976
Check the Map
Cross Jefferson Street to the Brutalist building and turn left.
There are two Points of Interest in this section.

Skip to
Sixth Street

Walk to face the brick colored building.

Another fortress.

Notice how the first floor has those rough-faced stone blocks and the upper floors are smooth. And how the details are chunkier, making the whole floor just seem more SOLID.

The left section is a tower, paired with two wider Gabled sections. The Gables have Profile Portraits of two gentlemen.


Walk to face the Annex

A different kind of imposing.

Look at the building. Really look. How does it make you feel?

Notice how the corner sections on either side in a way ENCLOSE the front area, like walls. And how the deep overhand above the name push down. And that the actual building starts well behind that forest of columns.

Not really the friendlies of buildings.

Sixth Street

38.254027 -85.758704
Check the Map
Continue to the intersection and cross Sixth Street.
There are eight Points of Interest in this section.

Skip to
Muhammad Ali Blvd

Turn and look at City Hall again.

The clock tower.

The tower is very tall compared to the rest of the building. Looking down, notice how the topmost overhang does not line up with the building on the right, even though the rest of the horizontal details do.

The most important aspect is where the tower is placed in the volume of the building. It could have been placed directly on the corner of the building, so that both sides would meet in an uninterrupted corner. However, it is pushed back into the volume of the building, allowing it to look like an entire tower while still being a part of the building.

Sorry, got a little geeky there. This is one of the most visually interesting buildings in the city and it is easy to get overwrought.

Turn around so the park is on your left. Walk down Sixth Street to the next intersection.

That fortress style.

Across the street you will see two more buildings with rough-hewn first floor and smooth-walled uppper floors.

Cross Liberty Street to continue down Sixth. You will see a parking garage on your left. Continue to the end of the parking garage and look to your right across the street.

Government building 3

There are two features that mark this as a government building: those smooth untextured walls and the first floor being raised by half a story.

Continue past the alley and look left at the dark brown building as you walk to the next corner.

What could this be?

Notice the heavy stone accents and the very thick metal bars on the sidewalk-level windows. It does not feel very pedestrian friendly, does it? In fact, it feels like this could be a place to hide people you do not like.

And then the wall changes to rough-faced large stone blocks with more windows and details. Notice how thick the stone is around the entrance doors.


When you get to the corner, look at the square white building diagonally across the street.

All is not as it seems.

This looks like a boring Mid-Century building. It has some red accents and three dark vertical stripes on each side but not much else.

Look closer at the three stripes on the left face, just below the name. Do you see anything unusual? Like some sky?

The white front is a veneer on an older building and the sky is visible because that part of the original building has a setback. If you were looking out of the windows you would see a void between them and the veneer.

Muhammad Ali Blvd

38.251502 -85.760829
Check the Map
Cross to the opposite side of Muhammad Ali Blvd and turn left.
There are nine Points of Interest in this section.

Skip to
The End

Walk to face the front of the Louisville Gardens building.

Confusing.

The columns are plain but their capitals and the shields above them are nice. What looks strange is how the corner sections have those visually interesting large block walls but the center has flat polished stone.

It feels like the entrance was modified later and was not meant to match the rest of the building. If so, perhaps the original details are hidden behind the stone panels...


Continue to the next intersection. This is Armory Place.

Hmmm.

Look to your right. What do you see?

Wasteland. Not history. Not architecture. Nothing to encourage people to walk around. Maybe there were shops, or a movie theater, or a grocery store--reasons for people to come downtown.

This is not meant to single out Louisville. This loss of streetscape has happened in most cities. It feels uncomfortable and causes people to avoid the area and the areas around it.


Continue to the next intersection. Look at the building diagonally across the intersection.

Downtown.

This is a perfect example of a downtown building. It has a pleasingly rectangular shape and is taller than the adjacent building so they do not look squished together.

It has some nice details and how the floors are divided into horizontal sections. The top two floors look like penthouses, with extra fancy details and that large overhang.


Look at the light beige building immediately across the street.

Why is everything up so high?

You will need either really good eyesight or a camera. On the top floor of the building, in the spaces between the groups of windows, there are panels. On those panels, just above the urn at the bottom, are roaring lion heads.

They are small. They are the same color as everything else. They are way up high. But they are lions.


Cross Fifth Street and walk to the front of the second building. Look to your left across the street.

Residential?

The window arrangement and the Tweed-like brickwork make this feel like it might have been apartments or a hotel. Notice the decorative brickwork between the rows of windows, the quilt-like details at the top, and the deep overhang.

Look to your right and up at the corner of the three story brick building.

Details, again.

The ornamentation is crisply carved and contrasts nicely with the brick. Brackets support the overhang and notice that it has some vertical depth as well, hanging in front of the actual wall.

Walk past the arched parking garage entrance and look up at the tall brick building on the corner.

Transitions.

We have seen how buildings decorate the sides that FACE the street and ignore the ones that are perpendicular, even though they are more visible when walking along the sidewalk.

There is usually a transition that wraps around the corner. Sometimes it works and sometimes it just looks wrong. This looks good. All of the front details wrap around just enough to connect the two sides and do not end abruptly.

I realize that most people simply do not look up and would never notice this, so there is no reason to spend the extra money. But when you have seen a bunch of these corners you appreciate it when it is done right.

Walk to the corner. The first building you looked at is on the left. Look at the building directly across the street.

One last look up.

Remember how those lions at the last corner were so high up and so small? Look at the ornaments on the top floor of this building.

Not only are they not so high up, they are huge. The details have not weathered away, there is a variety of shapes and lines, and there is a nice color contrast between the roof ornaments (including the brackets) and the brick.

You are done!

You are back at the corner where you started.

Notes

You are here:

Back