Community

Preservationists are pushing for the Odd Fellows Building in downtown to retain its landmark status — and avoid demolition.

The building, which sits near the corner of West Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Second Street, was given the designation by the city’s Landmarks Commission last year. It restricts the Omni, the owner of the property, from tearing down the building.

But two Louisville Metro Council members have filed a resolution to overturn the decision and clear the way to demolish the building. Council members David James and Jecorey Arthur cite the building’s segregated past in their resolution to overturn the landmark status. The Odd Fellows Organization didn’t remove its whites-only clause until 1971.

The resolution also states that a fire resulted in significant remodeling in the 1980s that removed many original elements of the structure, and that no specific important people or events are connected with the building.

About a dozen protesters rallied outside the building Monday to oppose the measure.

“We want to save buildings such as this, which really supports and adds vibrancy to downtown Louisville,” said Steve Wiser, president of the Louisville Historic League. “We are against the council spending over $400,000 to demolish this building. We’ve already given Omni over $140 million, and we do not want to give them one more cent to minimize and make less of our downtown area.”

Wiser acknowledged the building was a “primarily white lodge,” and that the lodge for Black members was a few blocks to the west. He countered complaints about segregation, saying the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a Black performing arts group, used the building as its base when touring the area in the 1970s.

“This building was used by African Americans,” he said. “To say otherwise is a denigration of Louisville history.”

Heath Seymour, executive director of the preservation group Vital Sites, said he doesn’t want to see more vacant lots or parking lots, adding that Omni does not yet have a use for the property. Louisville’s historic cityscape adds to major tourism events like the Kentucky Derby, he said.

“It’s all about history,” Seymour said. “People think something like that is a sporting event. It’s more of a historic event. And they come to a town that has historic buildings like this and a community like this because of the character, the authenticity and the sense of place that we get from these sorts of buildings.”

The building’s future will be discussed at the planning and zoning committee meeting at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.