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James Graham Brown, Businessman and Philanthropist

His name has graced several prominent buildings in Louisville, and he was the guiding force behind others. “He” was James Graham Brown, and this is his story.

Photo courtesy of Hanover College A native of Madison, Indiana, James Graham Brown moved to Louisville in 1903 to go into the lumber business with his family. This led to a prominent construction career. The most noted of his buildings is the historic Brown Hotel located downtown.

Built in 1923, at a reported cost of $4 million, the Brown Hotel drew many prominent guests and celebrities through the 1950s. A small suite in the Louisville landmark was also Brown’s home for most of his life.

The Brown Hotel, archival photo James Graham Brown also built the Brown Theatre on West Broadway near Fourth Street, although today it is name after another local businessman, W.L. Lyons Brown.

As a philanthropist, James Graham Brown helped fund the establishment of the Louisville Zoo and donated heavily to the Hanover College.

The bulk of Brown’s multi-million dollar estate was bequeathed to a charitable foundation in his name. The James Graham Brown Foundation helped fund the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, among many other community projects.

In addition to his entrepreneurial and civic developments, Brown was also an avid horseman – serving on the board of directors of Churchill Downs for more than three decades.

James Graham Brown died in 1969 and is buried at Cave Hill Cemetery. A bronze statue of Brown and his beloved pet dog, Woozum, stands on Fourth Street.

Additional facts:

  • James became president of W.P. Brown and Sons Lumber Co. in 1918 and sole owner in 1920, after his brother Martin’s death.
  • At one time the Commonwealth Building (1928), one of Brown’s constructions most noted construction projects, held the title of Louisville’s tallest building. The structure was imploded in 1994.
  • Brown also built the Kentucky Towers (1927). This building once operated as hotel but is now a mixed-used property, housing both apartments and retail spaces.
  • The Encyclopedia of Louisville states that the Greyhound Bus Station at Fifth and Broadway is another product of James Graham Brown.
  • The James Graham Brown Foundation was established in 1943 and incorporated in 1954.
  • According to Wikipedia, one of the James Graham Brown Foundation’s earliest donations led to the creation of the Kentucky Derby Museum.
  • Brown also helped acquire land for the development of the school. He did the same for the area’s first blood bank for the American Red Cross.
  • According to The Encyclopedia of Louisville, Graham was the first honorary trustee of the Old Kentucky Home Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
  • Woozum, a French poodle, was Brown’s constant companion.
  • James Graham Brown shares his Cave Hill Cemetery mausoleum with his sister, Agnes Brown Dugan, who died in 1968. Neither had heirs.
  • According to Wikipedia, Brown’s east end farm eventually became the site of Louisville’s Baptist Hospital East and retail center Breckenridge Square.
  • Following five years of renovations, the Jame Graham Brown Cancer Center had its grand reopening in on May 1, 2008. The center was established in 1980.
  • The Brown Theatre’s name changed to the Macauley in 1972. Following a multimillion dollar renovation, the name was changed again in 1998, this time to the W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre. W.L. Lyons Brown was the former chairman of Brown-Forman Corp.
Program 304
Louisville's magic ties; a visit to the Mellwood Arts Center; and celebrating the 50th anniversary of a popular neighborhood market. Our studio guest is Chief Robert White of the Louisville Metro Police Department. (#304)