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Whiskey Row demolition: Delicate balance to preserve history

by Joe Arnold


Posted on September 12, 2012 at 4:37 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 25 at 11:12 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Selective demolition of Whiskey Row buildings accelerated Wednesday on East Main Street in downtown Louisville. 

Though the facades of all seven buildings in the project will be saved, four of the buildings are being demolished, two on each end.  The middle three are being restored in tact.

More than a century after a cast iron facade was constructed on the Washington Street entrance of 117 East Main, the load bearing iron facade was carefully dismantled on Wednesday.  After workers sliced the metal with a cutting torch, heavy machinery moved in to painstakingly lift each piece away from the building and on to wooden palettes.

"We'll take this cast iron and all the windows and all the historic elements that were in this building plus even the brick that's around this back building and we'll take it off site and we'll store it," said Ron Carmicle, a principal with the McCall Group.  "Then when the development plan is put in place, the rear wall is rebuilt, it will be rebuilt and use these same materials."

Bricks that have fallen from the rear wall's demolition are now neatly stacked on palettes.  Windows, door frames, metal transoms and wooden mantles over fireplaces and those things.

The rear walls are gone at both 117 and 119 East Main - exposing old distillery offices.  A decades old tree was found growing through the second floor of one building.

On the Main Street side of Whiskey Row, the interiors of two buildings owned by developer Todd Blue are being demolished.

For 107 East Main's white glazed brick and yellow terra cotta designs to be saved, the interior is being demolished piece-by-piece from the inside out.  Work crews have cut away huge beams and flooring to make room for a new steel structure that will support the building's front facade on Main Street.

"Support it from wind loads and so forth," Carmicle explained.  "We can't just stand this thing 50 feet in the air without the structural support behind it."

"We're trying to do as much as we can from the inside and then just the final work will be the outside walls and the structural columns and supports," Carmicle said.  "We're trying to get as much of it down, take the weight off the walls and those types of things."

A "saw cut" of the two easternmost buildings is planned for Thursday to separate the front 25 feet of the buildings from the remainder.

Even before demolition, the interior was buckling from years of rainwater pouring in after a huge skylight failed.

Carmicle said demolition crews have worked to protect the remnants of a former sado-masochistic club from the 1990's discovered during demolition.  Oil paintings have been covered with plywood.

"The paintings are on a brick wall, and that brick wall is going to remain there," Carmicles said.  "So, if the paintings can't be moved then we've made efforts to try to protect them as best as we can recognizing the fact that in demolition things are going to fall."

A wooden torture rack found below the paintings has been removed to "an undisclosed location," Carmicle said.

WHAS11's coverage of the club's discovery has generated more than six million web page views on WHAS11.com.  The story was picked up by the Drudge Report, Huffington Post, AOL News, Great Britain's Daily Mail newspaper among other international coverage.