Old Louisville: Louisville, Kentucky
Old Louisville contains two National Historic Register Districts and such a diversity of people and activities that it constitutes a "city within a city." One of the first residential neighborhoods in the city, Old Louisville is steeped in historical legacy and spirit that lives on thanks to its robust community involvement.
The neighborhood known as Old Louisville is approximately 1,200 acres immediately south of the city's central business district boundaries, including Broadway to the north, Cardinal Boulevard to the south, 9th Street to the west, and I-65 to the east.
After the Civil War, Louisville, Kentucky, experienced a tremendous surge of growth and prosperity. In the Old Louisville neighborhood, the single most dramatic stimulus for expansion was the Southern Exposition of 1883. It ran annually for five years, proclaiming the rebirth of Southern industry and highlighting the innovations of the day. Thomas Edison personally turned the switch to light the exposition with the largest display of electric lighting outside of New York.
The electric trolley car premiered here, riding passengers through lighted tunnels on the adjoining DuPont estate now known as Central Park. These 17 acres of premiere park land, which today serves as the central gathering space for the neighborhood, were designed by iconic park planner Frederick Law Olmsted.
The decades immediately after World War II were a period of decline for Old Louisville, but community involvement has brought about a revival over the past 20 years. An increasing number of Louisvillians are attracted to its historical and architectural significance, its geographical proximity to the business and government center of Louisville, and its community spirit.
The design and buildout of Old Louisville includes a tight grid pattern and companion one-way streets that bring people into the downtown area. The houses and design of Old Louisville adhere to the industrial Midwest style of individual family homes. Most notably, the neighborhood boasts the largest collection of Victorian mansions in the United States. The Historic Old Louisville Neighborhood and Visitors Center is appropriately situated in Central Park in a beautifully restored, 110-year old mission-style building.
The community is proud of its heritage and works to take care of its historical houses and sites. Residents spearheaded the push for a historic preservation zone for neighborhood. Since then, the larger city has zoned the neighborhood as a historic district and a “traditional neighborhood zoning district” which has restricted the types of development that can appear in the neighborhood.
The neighborhood encourages social contact through robust community programming, including concerts in Central Park called Old Louisville LIVE in the spring and fall, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in Central Park all summer, and numerous street festivals. Local artists showcase and promote the neighborhood through their artwork and showings.
The main group behind the community planning is the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council, made up of residents of the 17 neighborhood associations who look to carry out preservation in the neighborhood.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- This primarily residential area is in a highly diverse area of Louisville: 34 percent of residents are African American compared with 40 percent in 2000. Rents and cost of living are low, with access to affordable grocery and general stores.
- The neighborhood is bordered on north and south by Spalding University and the University of Louisville. Colleges offer nightlife activities as well as a small influence for local artists in the neighborhood.
- Transit covers neighborhood completely. There is a separated bike lane down 3rd Street. Some thoroughfares are striped and others are “bike-friendly” with shared-lane markings and speed calming features. The neighborhood is served well by four transit lines that connect residents to all parts of the city.
- Halloween in Old Louisville offers ghost tales of the different Victorian mansions. Christmas brings the Old Louisville Holiday Home Tour in early December showcasing 10 Victorian mansions and townhomes in their holiday finery.
- The St. James Court Art Show was created 60 years ago to provide necessary funding to maintain the St. James Court grounds and fountain. Proceeds from the show continue to allow St. James Court Association and Belgravia Court Association to fund ongoing grounds upkeep and neighborhood beautification efforts.
- Fourth Street Association has used art show proceeds to fund the installation of new benches, urns, and trash bins along Fourth Street. Art show proceeds also funded the Linear Park at 3rd and Hill and installation of period street lights.
- Garvin Gate Blues Festival celebrates the art of blues music for two days each October. The event is free, but proceeds from sponsorships and vendors benefit the Garvin Gate and Old Louisville neighborhoods.
Pertinent Plans and Documents
- Old Louisville Landmarks Commission Design Guidelines
- Old Louisville/Limerick Traditional Neighborhood Zoning District (2010)
- Streetscape & Public Open Space Design Guidelines