The historic buildings along West Main Street in downtown Louisville are truly a sight to see—and a rare one. That’s because of the number of cast-iron buildings found there. Only New York’s SoHo district has more cast-iron facade architecture.
Cast-iron facades were economical and easy to assemble, which made them popular in commercial buildings from the mid- to late 19th century. These facades, or front walls, mimicked classical architecture and could be painted a variety of colors. They also were the forerunners of skyscrapers because they allowed builders to make taller structures with more windows. But the use of iron in buildings eventually gave way to mass-produced steel and did not survive the Great Depression.
Louisville foundries produced iron facades, which explains why so many cast-iron buildings are found here. Though many of these structures sat vacant for years, they are now being revived. Several downtown cast-iron buildings have been renovated and are now serving as museums and restaurants. You can easily identify them by using a magnet to test the facade.
Although West Main Street may be the city’s cast-iron architectural center, more cast-iron facades can be found on East Main, East Market, Baxter Avenue, and Bardstown Road.
- Program 108
- The Keep Louisville Weird campaign, media personality Susan Sweeney Crum, the Louisville Metro Department of Neighborhoods, U.S.A. Harvest founder Stan Curtis, and historic cast-iron buildings. (#108)