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Louisville Preservation Advocates to Release Annual List of Endangered Places

Louisville preservation advocates will soon release the annual list of the city's most endangered historic places.

The list is a compilation of specific structures, as well as general categories of spaces commonly found around the Metro area—such as shotgun houses, said Marianne Zickuhr, executive director of Preservation Louisville, which issues the list.

"It's a tool that I use to try to educate people and let them know what's going on in the community," she said.

And it's an important tool in Zickuhr's bag of preservation practices.

The annual list remains relatively constant over the years, highlighting places such as Colonial Gardens in South Louisville, historic churches and well-known mansions around the city, she said.

It's that consistency that Zickuhr said "acts as a catapult for something greater."

For example, the Ouerbacker House on 17th Street first made the endangered places list in 2005, according to Preservation Louisville's website.

Now, the Russell neighborhood structure is in the midst of a total preservation effort, Zickuhr said. And that excites her.

"I'm starting to see a lot of really great things happening at that property," she said.

She said when historic neighborhood structures are preserved they can serve "as beacons" for the neighborhood.

"It creates a sense of place through the streetscape, it's loss would be something etched on the communities mind," she said.

And the preservation of one building can lead to efforts to save other buildings, Zickuhr said, pointing out recent efforts in and around the east Market Street area and Whiskey Row. Buildings in both of these areas have, at some point, been listed on the endangered places list.

"A lot of times, people may think that preservation stands in the way of development, but we see it as a happy marriage," she said.

Metro Councilman Tom Owen, a Democrat from the 8th District, said the city has several examples of rejuvenated buildings becoming "icons" in the community, and that became more valuable through preservation than a new development on the same space would have been.

"Frequently, it's worth the squeeze," Owen said.

Although, he added, that it's often more expensive to rehab than to rebuild.

"But what's not accounted for in that equation is the value that the historic structure takes on when it lives again," he said. "It provokes curiosity, it deepens curiosity about the past, it gives a feeling of warmth and continuity, it gives a feeling of a community that values the connection between the past and the present."

Rebecca Matheny, executive director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership, said the financial tolls that come along with preserving historic structures can be intimidating “at the onset,” but she believes that preserving historic places is important to the economic development of a community.

“It’s really about place-making,” she said.

Zickuhr agreed.

But preservation comes not without barriers, she added.

Too often people and officials want "immediate gratification," she said. With preservation, that's rarely economically or chronologically feasible.

"You've got to think about the long term pay-off," she said.

She is quick to point out that some historic spaces in Louisville won't be coming off the endangered places list anytime soon.

For example, preservationists still are awaiting something to be done with the Doerhoefer House on west Broadway, Zickuhr said.

"We're not sure of it's future plans," she said.

And other places, like shotgun houses, represent a part of the city that may never be off the endangered places list, despite constant efforts and work to revamp these staples of Louisville architecture, Zickuhr said.

Louisville has the country's largest collection of shotgun houses, according to Preservation Louisville's website.

Zickuhr said shotgun houses are ripe for preservation efforts.

"You can make these wonderful again," she said. And when it comes to "green" living, "the greenest building is the one that's already built," she added.

Zickuhr said "little by little" Louisville residents are beginning to warm up to the notion of preservation.

She noted that 500 people attached their names to a Preservation Louisville-launched petition pushing to save two buildings on a downtown block slated to become the Omni Hotel development. Those buildings had been on the endangered places list in the past.


But where there is support for preservation, there is also controversy, Owen said.

"It's not easy, it is not easy," he said. "Since we have been actively focused on preservation … there have been major controversies."

With the list of endangered places, Zickuhr's organization will also release a list of successful preservation projects.

For Zickuhr, that list is "exactly the type of thing I like to see."

"Things are changing, are moving."




Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.