Tagged: BGT deTour

BGT deTour: Central Christian Church

The Blue Grass Trust’s deTours  is a group of young professionals (and the young at heart).  The program provides behind-the-scenes tours of  historic buildings, places, and sites in central Kentucky.   BGT deTours are free and open to the public. They occur on the first Wednesday of every month.


A ca. 1934 photograph matched with the present day church. The sanctuary has since been rebuilt. And boy has the context changed! The church is now surrounded by tall office buildings and parking lots where it was once hugged by small commercial buildings and houses. Photograph via KDL – I encourage you to click through to the original. The automobile parked in front of the church is a 1930s crane! (There is also some debris in the churchyard, so it’s possible the photograph was taken after the fire that destroyed the original sanctuary).

April’s deTour gave us a behind-the-scenes look at Central Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky (ca. 1894).   And when I say behind the scenes, I really mean it. We covered the church from attic to basement (sometimes crawling on our hands and knees, sometimes crab walking), and everything in between!


Central Christian Church as it appeared in 1898. Image via KDL.

This church is unique in a couple of ways. It is one of the few  remaining examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in Lexington, it is built on the site of the first Masonic Lodge west of the Allegheny Mountains, and it is home to the oldest congregation of the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ).

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Stained glass details. The image in the lower left corner shows some water damage. The image of Jesus in the lower right corner is only visible when the rose window on the side of the church is illuminated at night, or from the attic of the new sanctuary.

According to its National Register nomination, the church is the major surviving example of Richardsonian Romanesque in Lexington (it calls the Fayette County Courthouse impressive, but provincial).  The church was designed by Edwin W. and Frank L Smith (known as the Smith Brothers firm), who were responsible for many other institutional and residential structures in the area.  The Smith Brothers appear to be the “purest exponents” of the revival style popularized by American architect, H.H. Richardson in the Bluegrass region.  The NR nomination notes that with Central Christian, “Not only did they develop a convincing Richardsonian massing using the corner site near the main downtown commercial thoroughfare and incorporating the varied elements of the program in a functionally expressive yet unified composition, but they even went so far as to import some of the master’s favored type of stone, Longmeadow puddingstone (or brownstone) from Massachusetts, to contrast with the basic local rough-stone surfaces.”

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Architectural details – the doors shown in the center bottom photograph were installed in the 1970s

Other architectural hallmarks of the Richardsonian style found at Central Christian include the use of diaper-patterns, polished granite columns, the elaborately carved terracotta frieze on the central tower, and  stylized details derived from Romanesque and Byzantine sources.

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Old on the right, new on the left. Pretty good match, right!

In 1934, the sanctuary portion of the church burned. Though the congregation was tempted to relocate after the fire, they ultimately decided that their downtown location best served their mission.  Although the enlarged sanctuary was rebuilt on a somewhat different plan, “the reconstruction was remarkably well disguised.”   In the photo above, you can see where the new sanctuary was constructed – the stone used for the new portion is slightly more brown (left) while the old section’s stone is slightly more blue (right).  The new configuration of the sanctuary means that the rose window seen above is no longer visible inside the sanctuary. Luckily, it is accessible from the attic, and lights have been installed to illuminate the window at night.  We were able to view the window from the interior when we climbed into the attic.


Peter, aka the Kaintuckeen, gives two thumbs up to deTours! He likes attics almost as much as he likes basements. The rose window no longer visible to the sanctuary can be seen on the right.

The land for the church was purchased from the first Free Masons west of the Alleghenies after the Masonic Temple was destroyed by fire.  The cornerstone of Central Christian was dedicated on August 7, 1893 and “contains contents of era” and “is the same piece of rock that came out of the old Masonic Temple.”  It is believed that portions of the Masonic Temple foundation were incorporated into the design of the church.  While exploring the basement, we weren’t able to come to any conclusions, but we were quite smitten with the church’s old boiler (see below).  Obviously, it is no longer in use, but the church has kept it around all these years as an interesting bit of history. It’s really quite pretty!

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Though it is no longer used to heat the church, the old boiler has been retained.

Historically, Central Christian Church is the oldest of those churches that later became known as Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ). It is considered a direct descendant of the Cane Ridge Christian Church founded by Barton Stone in 1790. Central Christian not only has deep roots in Kentucky, but it is important to the history of an entire denomination. Who knew!?

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The sanctuary as it appears today

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The sanctuary as it appeared in 1934 shortly after its completion. Image via KDL

I love that the church chose the popular Romanesque style for their building.  By choosing a highly fashionable style, church leaders showed a reverence for tradition and history (it is a revival style after all) and an understanding of what their modern congregation wanted and needed from their house of worship. (And what might attract new members!)  Central Christian Church is an example of beautiful and smart turn-of-the-century ecclesiastical architecture.

Over one hundred years later, the building is still eye catching and because of its architectural roots in even older traditions (the architecture of the Romans and Byzantines) it has never really gone out of style.  Central Christian is steeped in tradition and history from its ties to the first Free Masons to its roots in an important historical religious movement, and it is wonderful to see a group safeguarding their history while being a good steward of a historic local gem!


The deTours group admiring the architectural details of the beautiful old church.

BGT DeTours: US Post Office and Federal Court House

The Blue Grass Trust’s deTours  is a group of young professionals (and the young at heart).  The program provides behind-the-scenes tours of  historic buildings, places, and sites in central Kentucky.   BGT deTours are free and open to the public. They occur on the first Wednesday of every month.


President Herbert Hoover allocated $760,000 for the project. While most other construction in the area was halted by the Great Depression, the courthouse construction continued.

This month, the BGT provided a behind the scenes look at the US Post Office and Federal Courthouse in Lexington. Completed in 1934, the Neoclassical building was constructed to serve as a post office, courthouse, and federal building.  While several renovations (the first in 1957) left the building mostly intact, the post office was removed from the first floor in the 1970s and 80s.   It remains Lexington’s preeminent example of Neoclassical architecture from the period.  The court rooms and halls are as stately as the day they were put into service.  If the walls could talk, they could tell stories of great trials and great calamities in Lexington, including a visit from Thurgood Marshall and the escape of two prisoners that led to a killing spree and manhunt.


The paint scheme, called the Colors of Pompeii, in the Great Hall was chosen to mimic what might have originally been found there. The terrazzo floor, marble pilasters, decorative molding, lighting, etc are original.

US post offices and federal buildings were typically designed by DC architects.  In an unusual turn, however, the Lexington firm of H.A. Churchill and John P. Gillig was chosen for the Lexington Post Office and Federal Building.  It seems the Public Buildings Act of 1926 created such a backlog of construction projects that it was necessary to farm some out to local firms.  At one time, Churchill designed post offices around the country for the federal government and it is assumed his firm was chosen to design the Lexington building on  this merit.  Though Churchill and Gillig are officially listed as the architects of the building, it is believed that Louis Simon, Supervising Architect of the Treasury, exerted a great deal of control over the design.

Though the building no longer houses the post office, it continues to function as a federal building and courthouse.  The  Eastern District of Kentucky’s US Marshal’s office is located on the first floor, just off the great hall (you can just make out the most wanted bulletin board at the far end of the hall in the photograph above).   You may be familiar with the the  Eastern District of Kentucky’s US Marshal’s office from the popular television series Justified. Unfortunately, the series has never filmed in the Federal Building and our tour guide assured us that the headquarters featured on the show are much nicer than the real offices.  Too bad for the current US Marshal, Loren “Squirrel” Carl!


The one way mirrors in the Great Hall above the post office were reportedly used for Post Office officials to survey the crowded lobby.

When the post office moved into its own facility in the 70s and 80s, the space it vacated on the first floor of the Federal Building was re-purposed into another court room and a holding room for jurors. Rather than removing the teller windows and post office box structures, project managers chose to simply fill the openings with material sympathetic to those used in the rest of the Great Hall, in order to make the former workspace more functional for its new purpose. As a result, it is easy to imagine what it looked like when the post office functioned in the space!

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Rumor has it that Thurgood Marshal once tried a case in this courtroom.

The two-story main courtroom on the second floor looks much as it did in 1934. The original floor plan, furniture, bronze grills and decorative finishes have been maintained (though the carpet is new). The walls of the courtroom are Appalachian Golden Vein marble. Arrayed on the courtroom walls are portraits of the judges of the US District Court for the Easter District of Kentucky who are retired, deceased or serving as senior judges. The portraits are original, though copies exist of several of them.


The WPA mural, “Daniel Boone’s Arrival in Kentucky,” was painted by Ward Lockwood in 1938 on the wall opposite the judicial bench. In this photograph you can also see the Appalachian Golden Vein marble used in the courtroom and examples of the decorative bronze grills used throughout the building.

During the tour of the courtroom, our guide was asked about famous trials that have taken place in the courtroom. But the trial that is most remembered by Lexingtonians is one that never occurred.   On Oct. 1, 1973, Wilmer Elvis Scott and William Sloan escaped from federal custody by jumping from the third floor of the Federal Building while awaiting trial. They overpowered a woman who was in the Sayre School car line with her children, forced her to drive to her home, bound the family and left in the woman’s car with a rifle and knives. They then drove to the  home of Reverend John Barnes, where they shot and killed Barnes and his two teenaged children, Johnny and Francine (also Sayre students). They later drove John Barnes’ car to Falmouth, where they killed three other people at a motel the next day before being apprehended. The men were later convicted of the murders. The story still haunts the people of Lexington. Though I’ve only lived here for about five years, I’ve heard it discussed on numerous occasions.

The US Post Office and Federal Court House has been a constant in the life of downtown Lexington for almost 80  years. Although its intended functions were significantly simplified when the post office relocated, the neoclassical building lost none of its grandeur in the process.   The Federal Court has proved to be a good steward of the property by maintaining its historical integrity throughout the decades, despite the drastic changes in its day to day operations.  There is little doubt that the building will continue to stylishly preside over the community’s trials and tribulations in the future.

BGT deTours: Oldham House

The Blue Grass Trust’s deTours  is a group of young professionals (and the young at heart).  The program provides behind-the-scenes tours of  historic buildings, places, and sites in central Kentucky.   BGT deTours are free and open to the public. They occur on the first Wednesday of every month.

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Five bay, 2 story Federal Style house ca.1835 at 245 South Limestone.

This month we were able to tour a Federal style house widely reported as the first built by a free African American in Lexington.  Though it was extensively renovated in recent years and retains little of its original interior decoration due to prior years of neglect, the building is a remarkable link to the even more remarkable story of an even more remarkable individual.

These are the facts:

In 1826, Lexington was a major slave trading center. The same year, a slave named Samuel A. Oldham bought his freedom.

Working as a barber, Oldham was able to save enough money to purchase the freedom of his wife, Daphney Harris Oldham, and their children in 1830.

By 1835, he was able to build them a large and elegant home less than a mile from Cheapside, the largest slave-trading location in Kentucky and one of the most well known slave market districts in the South.

The property was sold in 1839 and records from 1840 show that Oldham had purchased the freedom of at least three more individuals.

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The Samuel Oldham House before renovations began. Image via Gilpin Masonry

In 2004, the house at 245 South Limestone sat vacant, condemned, and slated for demolition, when it was “discovered” by the playwright, Ain Gordon. Gordon was visiting Lexington by invitation of LexArts, which asked him to delve into the cities past as a part of his series, In This Place…  Gordon’s goal was to “find forgotten historic stories and theatrically remember them, rescuing them from a vanished past.”

“I started walking around downtown and saw all of those historic plaques,” said Gordon. “My first reaction was, it’s all been taken care of. There’s nothing for me to do. This town is covering its history.”

But then he started to think about the plaques and how in most cases they couldn’t possibly tell the whole story of what happened at each site. That’s when he noticed 245 South Limestone, which didn’t have a marker despite being obviously older than some buildings that were marked. He did some research and reported that he’d found the first house built by a freed African American in Lexington.  (According to 1978 National Register nomination of the South Hill Historic Distirct, this is not the case. Michael Clark a “house joiner and freed man of color,” built a log cabin in the same neighborhood in 1807 and later replaced it with a brick house in 1818. The caveat may be that Oldham was the first to both own the land and house – it is unclear).

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A framed newspaper article describing the history of the Oldham House and Callaway’s purchase of the property proudly hangs in the “break room” of the downstairs office space.

“Following a multi-year development process, including numerous interviews with local historians and archival research, Gordon wrote and developed “In This Place…,” which imagines the Oldham’s lives and 19th century Lexington through the eyes of Samuel Oldham’s wife, Daphney. In the play (that stars Michelle Hurst), Daphney comes back as a ghost striving to remember her “living days,” and her history. Interwoven images of her after-life and a phantom Lexington populated by the famous and the disappeared, a land where every building that ever stood — still stands. In fact, Gordan’s efforts and the original production saved the Oldham house from demolition. “In This Place …” imagines the full story behind these bare facts from Daphney’s perspective and underscores via a quote: “A forgotten man is still better remembered than his wife,'” according to the Philladelphia Tribune.

In 2006, the property was purchased by Coleman Calloway III in order to save it from demolition and preserve its history. The building was in a sad state. It featured evidence of vagrant camps, small fires, vandalism, and looting.

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The new historical marker is the perfect place for a mini-preservationist to hide.

The the same year, Gordon’s play, In This Place… premiered  in Lexington and a “new-concept historic marker [was] unveiled at the house. Rather than try to encapsulate the history into a paragraph like the familiar bronzed signs dotting downtown do, the new marker direct[s] viewers to a Web site full of research Gordon did while writing In This Place ….”  Reportedly, the site also showcased “video from and for the play’s production shot by Lexington documentary filmmaker Joan Brannon.”  The historical marker still stands in front of the house, unfortunately, the website http://www.OldhamHouse.org no longer exists less than 6 years later.

Gilpin Masonry

“We stripped the paint, replaced the mortar and rebuilt the chimneys.” – Gilpin Masonry

Calloway did a remarkable job renovating the building for modern day use.  The house is located less than a block from Lexington’s central business district in a highly sought after high traffic location, therefore Calloway adapted the first floor for office space and created a spacious two bedroom/two bath apartment on the second level.

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First floor office space.

Original interior elements were maintained when possible and most interior changes to the floor plan are reversible so that it could easily be returned to a one family dwelling in the future.

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Spacious living room in the apartment occupying the second floor.

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Modern kitchen in the upstairs apartment.

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The original grande central staircase currently leads to nowhere – the apartment is accessed by way of a modern stairway at the back of the building. The wall at the top of the original stairs is designed to be removed easily.

It is currently on the market for a respectable $725k (a rumored loss to Calloway, who thinks of the project as as true labor of love).

To see posts about past deTours click here or visit the Kaintuckeean.  If you’re in Lexington and would like to come to a future deTour or learn more about the program, check out deTours’ Facebook page for details.

deTour: Ades Dry Goods Store

The Blue Grass Trust’s deTours  is a group of young professionals (and the young at heart).  The program provides behind-the-scenes tours of  historic buildings, places and sites in central Kentucky.   BGT deTours are free and open to the public. They occur on the first Wednesday of every month.

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Lexington Dry Goods Company Store ca. 1921. The east third (the last little bit on the right that is cut off) of the building was added in 1920. Image via Kentucky Digital Library

This month, deTours visited the Ades Dry Goods Store (also known as the  Lexington Dry Goods Company Building), located at 249 East Main Street in Lexington, Kentucky.  The circa 1907 building became one of Lexington’s first mixed occupancy buildings when it was renovated in 1988, the same year it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The storefront/warehouse was adapted to house a restaurant, commercial space and loft-style apartments by Omni Architects.  Today, it is the home of one of Lexington’s more popular restaurants, Portofino, and several successful companies (the fourth floor apartments have been removed and are now more office space).   But even more interesting than the evolution of the use of the space, is the building’s second tenant, David Ades.

In 1922, Ades owned and operated the Ades Dry Goods Store a half a block from the Lexington Dry Goods Company. At the time,  The History of Kentucky, Volume 3 noted, “A business that has done much to fortify Lexington as a wholesale market for the entire Blue Grass region is the wholesale dry goods and notions house of David Ades.  It is a business with an interesting history and the career of its proprietor is an illumination story of American opportunity grasped and improved by a foreigner.”


Although Ades was born a Russian Jew, his homeland became Lithuania after WWI. Kovno is now located in present-day central Lithuania. Image via Jewish Gen.

Ades’ story is just as remarkable today as it was in 1922, when the authors of  The History of Kentucky wrote, “David Ades was born at Kovno, Province of Gubernia, Russia [present day Lithuania] and came to America at the age of thirteen.  He was absolutely penniless when he stepped off the ship at Baltimore.  His destination was Lexington where his brother Simon Ades had been in the wholesale dry goods and notions business for some twelve years… David Ades went to work for his brother at $2 a week and board.  He was possessed not only of a great ambition to become an American business man but an American citizen in every sense. For two years after coming to Lexington after working all day in his brother’s establishment he attended night school… David Ades made himself in time so proficient as to be one of his brother’s force of salesmen, and eventually took over part of his brother’s line.”


Former Ades Dry Goods Store. Constructed ca. 1910. Image via Google Maps

“His present business dates its establishment from 1908 when he possessed less that $3,000 in capital… The volume of business today is fully a million, with a quarter of a million dollars invested… The present headquarters of his business is a three-story and basement structure with over 20,000 square feet of floor space, and with frontage of 117 feet on Main Street and 167 feet in depth.” The 1922 “headquarters” mentioned by The History of Kentucky, Volume 3, is pictured above.

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Ades Dry Goods Store as it appears today. Image via Urban Up

By 1925, Ades’ rapidly expanding capital and workforce put him in the position  take over The Lexington Dry Goods Company.  Presumably, it was at this point that the larger Lexington Dry Goods Company Building became the Ades Dry Goods store and warehouse.

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Original ceiling tiles in one of Portofino’s dining rooms.

Ades was not content with just one successful business. During the 1940s, the associated United Shoe & Garment Company and the Seda Company, Inc., were also listed as being located in the Ades Dry Goods building.  Ades was president of both companies until the 1950s.

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Multi-paned metal windows original to 1920 addition.

He was also active in civic and social affairs.  Ades was a director of the First City National Bank of Lexington,  a member of the Board of Commerce, the Elks, the Scottish Rite of Masonry, and he was a Noble Grande of Lexington Lodge of Odd Fellows.  In addition to the extended biography included in The History of Kentucky, he was listed among prominent Jewish citizens of Lexington in the 1917 special issue of the Lexington Herald.

Not too bad for a penniless teenage immigrant!  An “illumination story of American opportunity grasped and improved” indeed.

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Load bearing brick walls on the fourth floor (now occupied by an ad agency) show the scars of multiple renovations.

In 1977, the Ades family discontinued the dry goods business, sold off the company’s inventory and turned the building into a warehouse. When the building as purchased for redevelopment, the building had been changed very little over time. The redevelopment was able to capitalize on original architectural and ornamental features. The construction of the original building utilized a loft-like cast iron column system that made creating new interior spaces within the historic facade relatively simple.  The modern mixed use development  takes advantage of original historic fabric such as exposed brick walls, wooden floors, cast iron columns and decorative pressed metal ceiling tiles.

deTour: Lexington Children’s Theatre at Sleepy Head House

The Blue Grass Trust’s deTours  is a group of young professionals (and the young at heart).  The program provides behind-the-scenes tours of  historic buildings, places, and sites in central Kentucky.   BGT deTours are free and open to the public. They occur on the first Wednesday of every month.

Lexington Children’s Theatre.  Image via Panoramio

This month deTours visited the Lexington Children’s Theatre to get a behind the scenes look at their operation (the sets! the costumes! the rehearsal space!) and their historic location, the former Sleepy Head House office and factory buildings.

The Lexington Children’s Theatre (LCT) is a “fully professional, non-profit organization dedicated to the intellectual and cultural enrichment of young people.”  It creates “imaginative compelling theater experiences for young people and families” and it aspires to “impart, explore, foster and develop artistry at all levels and ages in every theatrical discipline.”

deTour participants hang out around the main stage.

The LCT was founded in 1938, but did not have a permanent home until 1998 when it completed renovations on the Sleepy Head House buildings.  The adaptive reuse project combined the interior spaces of 4 buildings (416, 420, 422, and 426 West Short Street). In two years, LCT’s architects were able to take factory space in the heart of downtown and remold and reshape its interiors  into a self-sufficient theater and education space complete with two stages, a costume shop, a set design shop, classrooms, rehearsal spaces and storage, storage, storage.

Head costume and puppet designer, Eric Abele, at work in the design studio.

The Theatre’s buildings are part of the block of buildings dating from the late 19th century to the early 20th century that were renovated in the 1980s to create Victorian Square, a mixed use development.  The Theatre is not owned by Victorian Square, but its buildings are contributing resources to the National Register Historic District by the same name.

Sleepy Head House was a subsidiary of Southern Bedding. This photo of its retail store taken in March of 1934 shows people gathered to watch a radio broadcast of WLAP from its window. Image via GTSmith

According to the LFUCG, the LCT’s buildings date from the 1920s and 1930s.  The LCT’s facade is made up of two 3-story, multi-bay wire brick buildings and two 2-story, multi-bay brick buildings. As I mentioned before, the building once housed the manufacturing and office space for Sleepy Head House.  Sleepy Head House advertised itself as “The South’s most complete Factor-Furniture Store”  where “discriminatory customers can get exactly what they desire in quality home furnishings at low factory-t0-consumer prices.”  The company manufactured Sleepy Head brand mattresses, pillows, box springs, living room suites,and studio couches.   It also produced institutional bedding, which it supplied to many Kentucky colleges. Sleepy Head’s showroom was located on the other side of the block in the Feeney Building (415-419 West Main Street), where the company’s motto was proudly displayed: “We Work That You May Sleep”

LCT cast rehearsal

Currently the LCT is showing their production, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (the screen play was written in-house!) and will soon be showing the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. If you are in Lexington, be sure to stop by for a show. They are always one-of-a-kind!  Tickets are available online and at the door.