Louisville Architect Steve Wiser, AIA has a passion for all things local. One might confirm this simply by scrolling down a list of titles of some of the prolific author’s previous books, which cover topics such as “Louisville Sites to See by DESIGN” and “Louisville Tapestry: People and Places who helped create America’s Most Livable City.” So it comes as no surprise that the busy historian’s latest published work – his tenth – combines that enthusiasm for the city with his professional area of expertise. In “Distinctive Houses of Louisville,” the second installment in a three-part series about notable local homes, Wiser collaborated with graduate architect and photographer Dan Madryga to offer a look inside some of the River City’s most spectacular landmark residences.
“As I’ve told people, Louisville is always rated very highly as a place to live,” Wiser commented. “We’re always in the top 10 or top 20, we have this high livability index here, in fact sometimes we’re rated No. 1 in the country as a great place to live. I said, well that being the case, where are the great places to live, in Louisville? So that was sort of my natural progression.”
Arranging the showcased homes in chronological order by year built, the book covers the gamut from classic historic manors, rich with history and the influence of previous owners, up to newly-built urban dwellings such as Waterfront Park Place, constructed in 2004 and a mainstay in the modern Louisville cityscape. Standouts include the cover home, Greystone Gables, a New Albany, Ind. residence built by William Findt Jr. for Col. E.V. and Katherine Knight in 1929. Photos of the home’s interior reveal a remarkably well-preserved masterpiece of woodwork and detailing, undoubtedly a result of the first homeowner’s early success in the wood veneer business. Sculptural plaster ceilings, period-appropriate furnishings and even original glass-front kitchen cabinets make Greystone Gables an awe-inspiring example of seamless interior design and unblemished historic architecture.
Louisville’s (some would say notorious) Pink Palace on St. James Court is another notable subject, perhaps as much for its checkered past as its distinctive hue, castle-like gable and grand, old-fashioned interiors. Formerly a gentlemen’s club, the house was first painted a lighter shade of the now-famous pink after it was purchased in the 1920s by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, as a sign of the new rule of prohibition. Previous owners include the inventor of the first hearing aid.
The Leight House, one of Wiser’s favorites, is a modern style residence in Glenview, built in 1967-8 by Fred De Santo in association with Jasper Ward, and owned by original owners Adele and Dr. Leonard Leight. Sliding glass doors, a wooden exterior and angular projections make this home especially distinctive when viewed from the outside. Fans of the Bauhaus style, the Leights commissioned the home with their lifestyle and collections in mind – built-in shelving and swathes of natural light make the most of a colorful collection of artwork. “They love the house so much, they’re very proud of it. It’s almost like an art museum on the interior with all they’ve done, all their art collection within it. So its a phenomenal house,” Wiser enthused.
But if he had to pick one of these impressive constructions to call home, the author, who has become quite familiar with each during the process of researching his book, would have little trouble deciding. “I’d very much like the Akers Carriage House,” he asserted. “It’s owned by Chuck and Ginger Schnatter, but it’s a beautiful carriage house I had discovered back in the 1980s, just by driving around Louisville I found this home. It was originally a carriage house to another major mansion, but its eclectic design style and the way it’s been renovated (stand out).”
Designed by John Bacon Hutchings and built in 1912, the former property of the nearby Speed Mansion is now considered a masterpiece of exuberance and a magnificent home in its own right. Highlights include beautiful stone and wood floors, exposed brick walls on the inside which correspond to the home’s facade, and Tudor style decor to complete the overall aesthetic. Much of the former stable’s elegant interior was recreated through a major renovation by former owner and Louisville architect Carlton Godsey.
But while he’d love to spend his days living in any one of the magnificent houses showcased in “Distinctive Houses of Louisville,” Steve Wiser is just as happy researching what makes each individual residence an exceptional example of Louisville architecture, and sharing that with others in his favorite city. And, unsurprisingly, he’s keeping it all local, right down to his choice of publisher and distributors. “I’m very much into the local business enterprises, in fact, the book is only at Carmichael’s and Conrad Caldwell House over in Old Louisville. …I’m using a local publisher as well, Four Colour (Print Group) is who I use. So everything’s local on this.”
That philosophy even extends to the funds generated by the book, added the author, who considers the project a personal endeavor, rather than a business enterprise. As a result, all proceeds will benefit the Visually Impaired Preschool Services, a Kentucky-based nonprofit providing education and early intervention services to visually impaired and blind babies and young children. “It’s a great charity and I just thought these creative homes would benefit those that, unfortunately, cannot view these homes,” Wiser explained. “…Being an architect and a historian, to me this is more of a passion.”
There will be a book signing with Steve Wiser on Saturday, Nov. 10, from 4 to 5 p.m., at Carmichael’s Bookstore, 2720 Frankfort Ave. You can purchase “Distinctive Houses of Louisville” as well as its precursor, “Modern Houses of Louisville,” at both locations of Carmichael’s Bookstore. The book retails for $25 and is also on sale at Conrad Caldwell House. It can be purchased directly from the VIPS website, www.VIPS.org, with an additional $6 handling fee.