After Frederick Law Olmsted told the Board of Park Commissioners about his design ideas for the parcels of land which would become Shawnee, Iroquois and Cherokee parks, the father of American landscape architecture left town with a signed contract in his travel bags.
That was in May of 1891. Since then, Louisville’s city fathers have rarely acted with such alacrity. At least until recently. To hear local architect, historian and preservationist Steve Wiser tell it, Louisville has been in an exciting new phase of big-ticket projects which are reshaping our community in much the same way as the park and parkway system of Olmsted’s day.
If Louisville is now in fact “Possibility City,” Wiser might be a leading candidate for “most possibilities suggested” accolades. His architect’s eye holds a visionary’s gleam, tempered by the heart of a practical preservationist. In his 2008 book “Louisville, 2035,” he weighs several dozen projects which could transform Louisville during the next two decades.
Wiser cites Norton Commons as an alternative to traditional suburbs, and has high praise for the Parklands of Floyds Fork, a 20-mile-long swath of green in the Olmsted tradition that will link Shelbyville Road and Bardstown Road with trails and parks by 2015.
But the University of Cincinnati graduate is most passionate about reshaping Louisville’s downtown and restoring the vitality of its older neighborhoods. During his tenure as three-time president of the Louisville Historical League, Wiser blocked demolition of several historic buildings. New uses for old buildings are Wiser’s ideal, but if they must cede to progress, he insists they be replaced with new architectural landmarks.
Wiser predicts the area north of Main and west of Ninth Street will form the core of the next urban patch to become edgy, and notes that the residential treasures of Portland offer a solid foundation for revitilization. He finds almost three dozen such treasures in his most recent book, “Distinctive Houses of Louisville,” where stunning photographs take the reader on a visual tour behind the walls of three centuries of area homes. Photographer Dan Madryga has captured just the right play of light and color for each interior to create an intimacy that is warm and inviting.
In addition to photos, each selection presents a brief history of the home, identification of the original owner and designer, date constructed, and current occupant. The houses are arranged in chronological order beginning in 1837 with Crescent Hill’s and concluding with a handful of avant-garde houses and decors.
Has Wiser run out of additional possibilities for Possibility City? Hardly. Now that Louisville has been rated the number one tourist destination in America, he has bold ideas to build visitor-friendly attractions on South Fourth Street. A new edition of his “Modern Houses of Louisville” will be published in the fall. Beyond that, Wiser is working on a new book. The subject? For now, he’s keeping it a secret.