America through the HABS Archives

The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) is the nation’s first federal preservation program.  Established in 1933 to document America’s architectural heritage (through drawings, photographs, and written narratives) and the “need to mitigate the negative effects upon our history and culture of rapidly vanishing architectural resources.”  Through a “tripartite agreement between the American Institute of Architects, the Library of Congress, and the National Park Service,” HABS documents buildings of various type, scale, and use throughout the regionally and ethnically diverse country.

Anybody can undertake work on HABS documentation.  The NPS provides guidelines for the drawings, photos, and narratives and if adhered to will be accepted by the Library of Congress and become a part of the public domain.  The LOC archives all the HABS completed online at “Built in America”.  The beauty of the online archive is that everything that has been digitized is searchable in one spot.  However archives like this are rarely used, except by those either looking for examples as they undertake their own documentation, or when researching a specific building.  And what people are missing are photographs and drawings that document American architectural heritage.  Some of which has been lost and only exists in these archives.

So it’s with that in mind, I am going to start a regular feature at thebldgbloc(k) to feature a new building through photographs and drawings I select to feature here.  Some buildings will be looked at more in depth while others will simply be presented through a few photos.

So to start,

600 & 700 Block of Main Street, Louisville, KY.

All images taken from “Built in America” archives found here.

This stretch of Main Street is best known for its collection of cast iron facades.  It’s collection is second, in number, only to New York’s SoHo district.  Once a string of vacant buildings the area has revitalized itself in recent decades and in 2008 was named a Top 10 Great Street in America.

Main Street was the city’s first street, established in 1779, and led to Fort Nelson (current day Seventh & Main).  The revitalization of the area centered around an arts and cultural district that is now home to Louisville Slugger Museum, the Muhammad Ali Museum, and the Frazier International History Museum.  How things have changed since these photos were taken.  The only date HABS provided for these photos was post-1933 (thanks as if I couldn’t tell).  The second photo features two cars that may help date the photos.  If anyone thinks they know a ballpark date, I would love to know (UPDATE: The photo caption page dates the photos to August 1979.  They were taken by Jack Boucher.)

601-634 Main Street Looking North Perspective

601-634 Main Street Looking North Perspective

601-634 Main Street Looking North

601-634 Main Street Looking North

Click here to see contemporary view.

601-634 Main Street Looking North

601-634 Main Street Looking North

Click here to see a contemporary view.

600-634 Main Street Looking South

600-634 Main Street Looking South

(UPDATE: There is no comtemporary view of this photo.  Well there is but not as you see it here.  I could not find this arrangement of buildings on Google Maps, but I found a section that looked as though it was this section mirrored.  And that’s exactly the case.  If you look at the top of this photo you’ll see the transparency was scanned backwards, resulting in a mirrored image of how it actually exists.)

700 Main Street Looking South

700 Main Street Looking South

626 Main Street

626 Main Street

Click here to see a contemporary view.

637 Main Street

637 Main Street

Click here to see a contemporary view.

(UPDATE: Commentary) Notice how deserted the streets are.   Not only are there no people walking on the sidewalks, but Main street, for all and intents and purposes, has no cars on it, moving or parked.  While I know downtowns across America struggled for years, especially Louisville, it is hard for me to comprehend the situation depicted in the photographs.  I’m glad that Louisville and cities across America have rebounded and once again have vibrant downtowns.

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