Never has plywood seemed so threatening and ominous then when it appears to sign the death warrant of another (usually historic) building in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve been lucky enough to work in many neighborhoods in the Derby City, and one of highest densities of interesting architecture (and plywood) is located in West Louisville. A few years ago, one of my favorite buildings in Portland, which had been clinging to life for decades, was hit by a car and torn down. Not only was it a lovely example of the whimsy and art that is the Queen Anne style, but it was a corner commercial building, a type that used to be ubiquitous in our towns, and too often now is preserved only in memories and black and white photos.
In 1892, E.C. Schweitzer built a two-and-one-half story frame, Queen Anne style building to house both he and his family and his pharmacy. The corner location was perfect, and at the time, Portland (once an independent city) was a thriving neighborhood. Schweitzer and his family lived upstairs,and all he had to do to go to work was…walk downstairs. Oh, the joy of mixed-use buildings. The second story, where he and his family lived, is punctuated by a delightful circular turret that extends from the corner, covered in fishscale shingles, and topped with a conical roof. The detail paid to the lintels, the slender cast-iron columns that separated the display windows on the first floor, and the entry doors – all made the building an eye-catching landmark on its corner – which attracted customers.
In 1892, there were 183 corner stores in Portland. In 2012, over half of those buildings were gone – along with eight city blocks within the neighborhood, lost due to interstate construction or flooding. Schweitzer sold the building in 1924 to a pharmacy student named Harold Katzman, who operated a pharmacy there until his death in 1952. Though his family attempted to keep the pharmacy going, the building transitioned into more mainstream retail, and served as corner store until the 1980s. The interior pharmacy furniture was donated to the University of Kentucky for a pharmacy museum (and I have no idea if that museum ever became a reality).
Left empty, the building became the target of vandals, at a time when Portland’s future was none too-assured. In recent years, the community has begun to experience a rebirth, with new investment and attention paid to the wealth of building stock. Sadly, that energy came too late for this gem of a building.