An American Classic: Gene Snyder U.S. Courthouse and Custom House, Louisville, KY


(MUSIC)   (MUSIC)  >LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY.
 THE CITY AT THE FALLS
 OF THE OHIO RIVER. KNOWN TO THE WORLD FOR ITS
 HORSE-RACING, BASEBALL BATS,
 AND BOURBON. IT IS A CITY OF SIMPLE
 PLEASURES, BUT ALSO A COMPLEX
 CHARACTER WHOSE VARIED INFLUENCES HAVE GIVEN IT A
 UNIQUE PERSONALITY.
 THE SELF-PROCLAIMED “GATEWAY TO THE SOUTH,”
 LOUISVILLE IS RINGED
 BY SUCH DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT NEIGHBORS AS
 ST. LOUIS, NASHVILLE,
 INDIANAPOLIS, AND COLUMBUS. ITS ECONOMY IS VARIED, TOO –
 ROOTED IN AGRICULTURE,
 BUT TRADING IN THE CURRENCY OF RIVER COMMERCE
 AND MANUFACTURING.
 AND ITS FORTUNES HAVE EBBED AND FLOWED LIKE THE RIVER.
 >>LOUISVILLE WAS BORN IN
THE DARKEST DAYS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.
IT WAS BEGUN AS A MILITARY
 OPERATION TO ESTABLISH A DEFENSIVE FORT AT
 THE FALLS OF THE OHIO.
 THERE WERE MOMS,AND KIDS AND ONE
AFRICAN AMERICAN SLAVE THAT
CAME UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF GEORGE ROGERS CLARK IN 1778,
AND PLANTED THE BEGINNING OF
A SETTLEMENT HERE.  >THE CITY WAS NAMED FOR THE
 FRENCH RULER LOUIS XVI IN
 GRATITUDE FOR FRENCH ASSISTANCE DURING THE
 AMERICAN REVOLUTION.
 IN THE ENSUING YEARS, GERMAN AND IRISH IMMIGRANTS,
 ALONG WITH AFRICANS
 – BOTH ENSLAVED AND FREE — FOLLOWED IN THE FOOTSTEPS
 OF THE FRENCH,
 ALL ENRICHING LOUISVILLE WITH THEIR VARIED CULTURES.
 BUT IT WAS IN THE 1920S THAT
 LOUISVILLE REALLY CAME INTO ITS OWN.
 >>IN THE FIRST TWO DECADES
 OF THE 20TH CENTURY,BLOSSOMING IN THE 1920’S,
THERE WAS A SUBSTANTIAL
 INCREASE IN INDUSTRY. THERE WAS A GROWTH
 IN POPULATION, THERE WAS A
 GROWTH IN PROSPERITY. LOUISVILLE BECAME SOMETHING
 OF A SOUTHERN INDUSTRIAL CITY.
 WELL, THE GROWTH OF INDUSTRYIN THE 1920’S FOCUSED
AROUND AUTOMOBILES.
 AND, OF COURSE, AUTOMOBILE MEANT FORD AUTOMOBILE
 FABRICATION, BUT IT ALSO
 MEANT PRODUCING AUTOMOBILE PARTS THAT WAS RELATED MORE
 BROADLY TO THE
 AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY. >IN THE 1920S,
 153 NEW MANUFACTURING PLANTS
 GEARED UP FOR BUSINESS. THIS PROSPERITY GAVE RISE TO
 A GROWING DOWNTOWN.
 THE CENTER OF COMMERCE WAS ONCE ANCHORED AT THE
 MIGHTY OHIO RIVER.
 BUT NOW IT FLOWED AWAY FROM THE WATERFRONT.
 BROADWAY BECAME THE HEART OF
 THE CITY — FASHIONABLE, BUSTLING, THE PLACE TO BE.
 IN 1925, THE ELEGANT
 BROWN THEATRE OPENED ITS DOORS, EQUAL TO ALMOST ANY
 STAGE IN NEW YORK.
 UNION STATION WAS NOT NEW, BUT IT NOW BROUGHT TRAINLOADS
 OF TRAVELERS TO LOUISVILLE,
 BOTH FOR BUSINESS AND PLEASURE. THE OLD 1858 FEDERAL BUILDING
 COULD NO LONGER SERVE
 THIS GROWING CITY. LOUISVILLE NEEDED A NEW
 POST OFFICE, COURTHOUSE,
 AND CUSTOM HOUSE. AND IT HAD TO BE WORTHY
 OF LOUISVILLE’S NEWLY
 COSMOPOLITAN IMAGE. THE CITY DECIDED ON A
 NEO-CLASSICAL STRUCTURE
 MODELED AFTER THE TREASURY BUILDING IN WASHINGTON, DC.
 BUT THE STOCK MARKET CRASH OF
 OCTOBER 29TH, 1929, AND THE ENSUING GREAT DEPRESSION,
 THREATENED TO DASH THOSE PLANS.  (MUSIC)  AS THE DEPRESSION GROUND ON,
 IT SEEMED LOUISVILLE’S
 PROSPERITY HAD STALLED, AND WITH IT PLANS FOR A GRAND
 FEDERAL BUILDING TO GRACE THE
 SPLENDID AVENUE AT THE HEART OF DOWNTOWN.
 SPIRITS AND MORALE SUFFERED
 AND CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS FOLDED, BUT SOMEHOW,
 THE DREAM SURVIVED.
 THE BUILDING CONCEIVED IN THE BEST OF TIMES
 SURVIVED THE WORST.
 IN THE SHADOW OF THE DEPRESSION, UNDER THE
 SUPERVISION OF
 JAMES A. WETMORE, TREASURY DEPARTMENT
 ARCHITECTS DREW UP PLANS FOR
 THE NEW POST OFFICE AND CUSTOM HOUSE.
 AT 601 WEST BROADWAY,
 BETWEEN 6TH AND 7TH STREETS, AN ENTIRE CITY BLOCK OF SMALL
 BRICK HOMES AND STOREFRONTS
 MADE WAY FOR THE NEW FEDERAL BUILDING.
 >>THAT BUILDING, JUST IN TERMS
 OF IT’S SHEER SIZE-A BLOCK BY A NARROW BLOCK,
 SO IT’S A SQUARE-A BLOCK
 SQUARE SIZE BUILDING.IT IS MASSIVE.
IT SAYS FROM THE TRADITION…
WITH ITS AMERICAN EAGLES ON THE FRONT, WITH ITS
SHIELDS ON THE FRONT,
WITH ITS COLUMNS ON THE FRONT, IT SAYS, “THIS PEOPLE WILL NOT
BE MOVED, THIS GOVERNMENT
IS HERE TO STAY!”  >THE $2.8 MILLION STRUCTURE
 WAS A BUILDING OF SUBSTANCE,
 FRAMED IN STEEL AND CONCRETE WITH AN EXTERIOR OF BEDFORD
 LIMESTONE, FINISHED WITH
 CORINTHIAN COLUMNS, A COPPER ROOF, AND BRONZE ACCENTS.
 FOR LOUISVILLE RESIDENTS,
 IT WAS A SIGN OF RESILIENCE. AMIDST THE DEPTHS OF THE
 DEPRESSION, LOUISVILLE HAD
 FOUND A GLIMMERING RAY OF HOPE.
>>SO, WHEN YOU CAME TO 1932,
AND YOU COULD CUT A RIBBON, IN THE BAD TIMES-ON A BRAND,
SPANKING NEW, HOTDOG
BUILDING-THAT WAS PART OF AN ENCOURAGEMENT, A HOPE, UM,
MAYBE THINGS ARE OKAY.
 >THE CITIZENS OF LOUISVILLE HAD NO DOUBT THE CITY WOULD
 KNOW GOOD TIMES AGAIN WHEN
 THEY STEPPED INSIDE THAT MAJESTIC BUILDING.
 THE FIRST FLOOR LOBBY
 WELCOMED AND DELIGHTED THEM, WITH ITS MARBLE FLOORS AND
 WALLS SET OFF BY BRASS
 POST BOXES AND ACCENTS.>>WE HAVE ORIGINAL ARTWORK IN
THE BUILDING THAT WAS DONE BY
FRANK WEATHERS LONG, WHO IS A KENTUCKY RESIDENT,
HE’S FROM BEREA, KENTUCKY.
 >COMMISSIONED IN 1935 UNDER THE PUBLIC WORKS ACT,
 LONG’S TEN MURALS
 CELEBRATE KENTUCKY LIFE. THE PAINTINGS PORTRAY
 KENTUCKIANS AT WORK AND PLAY:
 ENJOYING EQUESTRIAN SPORTS, DELIVERING MAIL, FARMING,
 TRADING ON THE OHIO RIVER,
 AND MINING. BUT THE BUILDING THAT BROUGHT
 SUCH BRIGHT HOPE TO
 LOUISVILLE’S RESIDENTS WAS IN FOR SOME DARK TIMES.  (MUSIC)  WINTER 1937.
 THE OHIO RIVER – LOUISVILLE’S
 COMMERCIAL LIFEBLOOD WAS HEMORRHAGING.
 >>THE OHIO RIVER IS WIDE AT
 LOUISVILLE, ABOUT THREE-FOURTHSOF A MILE WIDE BECAUSE
IT’S JUST ABOVE THE RAPIDS.
 DURING THAT GREAT FLOOD OF JANUARY, FEBRUARY OF
 1937, THE OHIO RIVER
 SWELLED TO BE TWELVE MILES WIDE ON BOTH THE INDIANA
 SHORE AND THE KENTUCKY SHORE.
 THE BUILDING BECAME SURROUNDED BY FLOOD WATERS.
 SO, IT’S COLD, IT’S DARK AND
 IT’S ISOLATED – STANDING AS A MONUMENT ON TOP OF THE WATER.   >IT WAS THE WORST FLOOD IN THE
 CITY’S HISTORY, AND TO
 RESIDENTS, IT SEEMED LIKE IT WOULD NEVER END.   BUT IT DID.
 AND IF THE CITY NEEDED
 CHEERING UP – IN MAY OF 1937, AT CHURCHILL DOWNS,
 THEY GOT IT.
 WAR ADMIRAL WON THE KENTUCKY DERBY AND THEN CAPTURED
 HORSE RACING’S GREATEST GLORY:
 THE TRIPLE CROWN. BY 1938, LOUISVILLE PREPARED
 FOR AN ARCHITECTURAL FEAT
 THAT WOULD BE NO LESS IMPRESSIVE.
 ARCHITECTS AND ENGINEERS
 BEGAN ADDING A SIXTH FLOOR TO THE POST OFFICE
 AND CUSTOM HOUSE.
 WORKERS CUT THE 2.5 MILLION-POUND ROOF FREE OF
 THE BUILDING AND USED 600
 JACKS TO RAISE THE ROOF ONE-SIXTEENTH OF AN INCH AT A
 TIME, LIFTING IT ELEVEN FEET,
 SIX INCHES IN ALL, TO CREATE AN ADDITIONAL STORY.
 AS THE BUILDING EXPANDED TO
 MEET THE NEEDS OF A GROWING POPULATION, SO DID ITS TIES
 TO THE LIVES OF
 LOUISVILLE’S RESIDENTS.>>I HAVE TIES WITH THAT
BUILDING AND WITH
THE POSTAL SERVICE. IF I HAD BECOME A POSTMAN,
I WOULD HAVE BEEN
3RD GENERATION. MY GRANDFATHER WAS 50 YEARS,
 MY DAD WAS 40 YEARS IN THE
 POSTAL SERVICE, AND MY DAD’S LAST JOB AS A POSTAL SUPERVISOR
 WAS IN THAT BUILDING.
 AND SO I FREQUENTLY VISITED THE BUILDING.
 >I REMEMBER AS A KID, WHEN WE
 WOULD COME TO THE FEDERALCOURTHOUSE, WHEN I WASN’T
EVEN REALLY AWARE OF IT BEING
A COURTHOUSE, SO MUCH AS BEING THE POST OFFICE.
 AND, WE WOULD MAIL LETTERS,
 GET STAMPS AND-SO, THERE’S AHUGE PART OF OUR COMMUNITY
THAT FEELS CONNECTED TO THE
BUILDING IN THAT WAY.  >>MANY CASES DECIDED IN THESE
 COURTROOMS WOULD REACH FAR
 BEYOND THE WALLS OF THE BUILDING.
 >A LANDMARK DECISION FOR
 DESEGREGATION AND BUSING WASDECIDED HERE BY JUDGE
BALLANTINE, BACK IN THE,
UH, EARLY ’70’S – AND THAT CREATED A LOT OF-OF
 RACIAL TENSION
 AND, OBVIOUSLY WE GOT PAST THAT.
 IT STRENGTHENED OUR
 COMMUNITY BECAUSE OF IT. THERE WAS A-A VERY LARGE
 HELLS ANGELS TRIAL HERE, UH,
 WITH NUMEROUS DEFENDANTS, AND CREATED QUITE A BIG STIR
 IN THE COMMUNITY BECAUSE IT
WAS SUCH A SECURITY NIGHTMARE AND IT GOT A LOT
OF MEDIA COVERAGE.    >>MUHAMMAD ALI AS CASSIUS CLAY
 FILED HIS CIVIL CASE HERE
 AGAINST THE SELECTIVE SERVICE BOARD SEEKING INJUNCTIVE
 RELIEF BECAUSE OF
 HIS RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE HAVE
BECOME CITIZENS OF THE
UNITED STATES IN THIS BUILDING.  >BY THE MID-1980S, HALF A
 CENTURY OF MEMORIES SURVIVED,
 BUT THE BUILDING ITSELF WAS FADING FAST.
>>I WENT ON THE COURT IN 1986
AND UH, ACTUALLY, BACK THEN  THE BUILDING WAS A
 LITTLE-GETTING A LITTLE
 LONG IN THE TOOTH.>WHEN I FIRST BECAME INVOLVED
WITH THE SNYDER BUILDING, UM,
IT HADN’T BEEN  RENOVATED IN AGES.
 YOU COULD TELL THAT IT WAS AN
 ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL BUILDING, BUT REALLY NEEDED
 A LITTLE UPDATING.
>>WE REALLY THOUGHT THAT THIS BUILDING WAS SO BEAUTIFUL
THAT WE DIDN’T WANT TO LEAVE
 IT AND GO INTO A MORE MODERN STRUCTURE THAT WOULD BE
 PRETTY GENERIC.
 LOOKS LIKE A GOVERNMENT BUILDING INSIDE AND OUT, AND
 UH-UH, WE WANTED TO, UM,
 STAY HERE IF WE COULD.>THIS BUILDING IS MY BABY.
 IT JUST GIVES YOU A FEEL
 LIKE YOU DID JUST STEP BACK INTO THE ’30’S.
 >>WE COULD HAVE ASKED FOR A NEW
 COURTHOUSE, BUT WE BELIEVED IT WAS MORE IMPORTANT FOR THE
COMMUNITY AND FOR THE-OUR
FACILITIES TO PRESERVE WHAT WE HAD. (MUSIC)  >WOULD THE LOUISVILLE FEDERAL
 BUILDING SUFFER THE SAME FATE
 AS SO MANY HISTORIC BUILDINGS AND BE ABANDONED?
 ITS SUPPORTERS WERE DEDICATED
 TO MAKING SURE THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN.
 CONGRESS APPROPRIATED
 $22.7 MILLION FOR RENOVATIONS. AND, IN 1986, THE BUILDING
 WAS RE-NAMED THE GENE SNYDER
 COURTHOUSE AND CUSTOM HOUSE IN HONOR OF REPRESENTATIVE
 MARION GENE SNYDER,
 A KENTUCKY NATIVE WHO REPRESENTED HIS HOME STATE IN
 THE US CONGRESS FOR
 MORE THAN TWO DECADES. THE BUILDING HAD A
 NEW LEASE ON LIFE.
 IN THE LOBBY, THE POST BOXES, INTAKE WINDOWS, TABLES,
 BRASS WORK, AND MARBLE FLOORING
 WERE RESTORED AND NEW LIGHT FIXTURES INSTALLED.
 >>WE HAVE PICTURES FROM OLD
NEWSPAPER ARTICLES OF OLD POSTAL CUSTOMERS GATHERED
AROUND THESE TABLES, AND IT
LOOKS EXACTLY THE SAME TODAY.  SO, THAT IS ONE OF THE THINGS
 THAT WE PRIDE OURSELVES IN
 WITH GSA, IS-IS RETAINING A LOT OF THOSE HISTORICAL
 FEATURES IN THAT BUILDING.
 >ON THE FIRST FLOOR, TO MAINTAIN THOSE BEAUTIFUL
 FEATURES AND YET NOW IT’S
 USABLE SPACE, WITH SOCIAL SECURITY
 ON ONE SIDE AND THE
 CLERK’S OFFICE ON THE OTHER. I THINK THEY’RE AMAZED AT HOW
 THE SPACE HAS BEEN ADAPTED TO
MORE OF A MODERN USE.>>THERE’S TREMENDOUS, UM,
DESIGN FEATURES IN HERE,
 ESPECIALLY IN THE PLASTER WORK AND, UH, SO ONE OF OUR
 GOALS WAS TO TRY AND
 MAKE THE PLACE DIGNIFIED, BUT TO HIGHLIGHT SOME OF THE
 FEATURES THAT WERE BUILT INTO
 THE BUILDING – THAT HAD BEEN ESSENTIALLY HIDDEN FOR
 A NUMBER OF YEARS.
>WE RENOVATED THE COURTROOM, MOVED AWAY THE DRAPES AND
FOUND ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL
 STONE, UM, ARCHWAYS AND-AND, WHEN YOU LOOK AT THAT
 COURTROOM TODAY IT JUST JUMPS
 RIGHT OUT AT YA’.ONE OF THE INTERESTING
CHALLENGES THAT WE HAD IN
DOING A LOT OF RENOVATIONS OVER IN THE SNYDER COURTHOUSE
 IS INTEGRATING, UM, THE
 SECURITY AND THE TECHNOLOGY, WHILE TRYING TO BRING
 EVERYTHING BACK TO ITS
 ORIGINAL, HISTORIC NATURE.WE WERE ABLE TO ENHANCE THE
TECHNOLOGY, BUT I THINK,
 IF YOU WALK IN AND LOOK AT THE COURTROOMS TODAY, IT
 LOOKS LIKE A COURTROOM FROM
 THE ’30’S AND YOU REALLY DON’T NOTICE A LOT OF THE NEW
 TECHNOLOGY IN THERE.
 >>JUDGES’ CHAMBERS WERE ALSO RENOVATED TO SEAMLESSLY
 BLEND OLD WITH NEW.
 RENOVATED SIXTH-FLOOR OFFICE SPACE BROUGHT NEW TENANTS,
 INCLUDING SENATOR
 MITCH MCCONNELL.>ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS
THAT WE DID WAS IN THE
LAW LIBRARY, ON THE SECOND  FLOOR THAT THE COURTS
 STILL USE TODAY.
 IT’S AN ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL AREA.
 >>THE DEDICATION OF THE
 BUILDING’S SUPPORTERS PAID OFF. IN 1999, THE BUILDING WAS
 LISTED IN THE NATIONAL
 REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES. AND SUCCESS BUILT ON SUCCESS.
>WE WERE SO PROUD OF-OF
EVERYTHING THE GENERAL  SERVICES ADMINISTRATION AND
 THE CLIENTS IN THE BUILDING,
 HAVE DONE TO IMPROVE THE LOOK AND THE FEEL OF THE
 COURTHOUSE, WE ENTERED IT INTO,
 UM, A BUILDING COMPETITION. IT’S BUILDING OWNERS AND
 MANAGERS ASSOCIATION,
 WE WON HISTORICAL-INTERNATIONAL BUILDING OF THE YEAR,
 1999 AND 2000.
 >>I’VE SPENT 33 YEARS OF MY LIFE IN THIS BUILDING AND,
 WHEN I’M GONE AND THIS
 BUILDING REMAINS, I WOULD BE VERY PROUD TO KNOW THAT MY
 GRANDCHILDREN, OR MY
 GREAT-GRANDCHILDREN, WOULD VISIT ITS HALLS OR PASS
 THROUGH HERE AND SAY,
 ‘MY GRANDMOTHER USED TO WORK IN THAT BUILDING.’ OR, MAYBE
 SOMEONE ELSE’S GRANDCHILD
 WILL SAY, ‘MY GRANDFATHER BECAME AN AMERICAN CITIZEN IN
 THAT BUILDING.’ WHEN WE
MAINTAIN AND CARE FOR BEAUTIFUL, HISTORIC BUILDINGS
LIKE THIS, WE’RE NOT ONLY
PRESERVING THE MARBLE AND STONE, BUT WE’RE PRESERVING A
HERITAGE THAT BELONGS TO ME
AND TO ALL THOSE WHO MAY HAVE PASSED THROUGH THESE HALLS. (MUSIC)  

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