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    Building Breakdown

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    In the Building Breakdown, we ask a local architect to name one of their favorite local buildings. Only one rule: they can’t pick one of their own.


    We asked architect Steve Wiser to name one of his favorite Louisville buildings. Only one rule: He couldn’t name one of his own. If he had, he might have selected the renovated Family Health Centers on East Broadway, in the former American Standard headquarters (the manufacturer of bathroom fixtures was founded here). Louisvillians may know Wiser as the author of several books on regional architecture.


    Actors Theatre-Bank of Louisville building: The 56-year-old theater company inhabits several Main Street buildings, so you could be forgiven for looking past the narrow Greek Revival temple at 320 W. Main St. Completed in 1837 as the Bank of Louisville, the limestone structure stands distinct from surrounding buildings with its twin tall and tapering ionic columns framing what was once the bank’s entrance. The columns and the building itself narrow as they rise, creating an illusion of height. A flower-like decoration known as an anthemion crowns the building. Inside, an elliptical dome, some 40 feet across at its longest extent, features an ovular skylight in the center. Faux columns known as pilasters ring the room, and two Corinthian columns near the back wall echo the details out front.

    Why the Bank of Louisville? “It’s just so classical!” Wiser says. “Can you imagine that lobby built in 1837? This would have been a mud street. Imagine opening that door and going, ‘Whoa!’ I can just imagine what the wow factor was like. There was nothing else
    like it.”


    Architect: Although a plaque outside indicates Louisville architect Gideon Shryock designed the building, that idea was corrected in the early 1970s with the discovery of drawings by the architect James Dakin. Dakin was known for his Neo-Classical buildings in New York and New Orleans, and Wiser says a since-razed bank building in New York was almost identical to the Louisville bank. Confusion about who designed the Louisville building may have arisen from the fact that Shryock supervised its construction. Shryock, Kentucky’s first professionally trained architect, according to the Kentucky Historical Society, designed several notable Kentucky buildings, including the Jefferson County Courthouse (today’s Metro Hall).


    Tidbit: The Pamela Brown Auditorium, one of the building’s original performance spaces (expanded in the early 1990s), is named for the young actress who, with her husband Rodney Anderson and experienced balloon pilot Malcolm Brighton, set off on Sept. 20, 1970, from Long Island on a quest to complete the first transatlantic balloon flight. The following day, the balloon disappeared after the team sent its final message: “we are ditching.” None of the party was ever found. Former Kentucky governor John Y. Brown asked that the auditorium be named in his daughter’s honor.


    This originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Joon Kim,

    Jenni Laidman's picture

    About Jenni Laidman

    I'm a freelance writer who specializes in science and medicine but is passionate about art. I'm a hell of a cook. I think of white wine as training wheels for people who will graduate to red. I love U of L women's basketball. The best bargain in town is the $3 admission to U of L volleyball. Really exciting stuff.

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