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Louisville's Great Skyscrapers

As the saying goes, “The only thing constant is change”… and that has been illustrated time and again in Louisville’s morphing skyline. In Et Cetera, a look back at a special bygone skyscraper and a few notable successors.

The Columbia Building is considered by many to be Louisville’s first true skyscraper. It stood on the northwest corner of Fourth and Main Streets.

Completed in 1890, the Columbia’s purposes were to attract attention to the city and to help modernize downtown.

Successfully, the $1 million, 10-story building became a popular tourist attraction, known for its spectacular view. The Columbia was not only the tallest building in Louisville for 13 years … it was the tallest building in Kentucky for a decade.

In December 1966, in an effort to revitalize Louisville’s riverfront, the Columbia was demolished. This helped make way for the new Galt House Hotel, the Belvedere complex and the 24-story BB&T building which now stands in its place.

However, a remnant of the Columbia remains - a granite block from the structure sits in front of the BB&T building.

As of 2009, the tallest building in Kentucky was the AEGON Center, in downtown Louisville. Built in 1993, its 35 floors are capped by a dome that glows at night.

National City Tower, PNC Plaza and the Humana Building follow the AEGON accordingly as Louisville’s tallest buildings.

The pink granite Humana Building, a skyline anomaly with its “milk carton” shape, was dubbed “Building of the Decade” by TIME magazine in the 1980s. It is one of Louisville’s most popular tourist attractions.

More information:

  • The Columbia was Louisville’s first 10-story building. It was preceded by the Kenyon Building (1886), which was only six stories tall. The Columbia’s was eclipsed in Louisville by the Starks Building (1913) downtown, its state successor was the current Kentucky State Capitol Building (1910).
  • According to Wikipedia, the Kenyon building stood on Fifth Street between Main and Market Streets and was razed in 1974. The site later became home to the Humana Building.
  • The Columbia building (originally called the Commercial Building) was built five years after the Home Insurance Building in Chicago - the world’s first skyscraper.
  • The Columbia was designed by the Louisville firm of Curtin and Campbell.
  • According to Wikipedia, at the time of this posting, 12 of the Commonwealth’s 16 tallest buildings (at least 300 ft high) stand in downtown Louisville.
  • National City Tower was the tallest building in Kentucky from 1972 until 1993, when the AEGON Center was completed.
  • The AEGON Center’s dome glows with red and green during the holiday season, pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
  • The Humana Building reached a milestone 25 years in 2007. Learn more about this landmark structure in our Louisville Life Season Two feature story.

Learn about some of Louisville’s other architectural gems such as Kaden Tower, Louisville Palace Theater, Conrad-Caldwell House, and downtown’s cast iron buildings, in Et Cetera.

Program 409
"Louisville Life" features The Concrete Lady, an award-winning history teacher, Hawks View Gallery and Café, Louisville's great skyscrapers, and the original 21c Museum Hotel. (#409)