Economy

Ken Clay is nostalgic for a different West End.

Clay remembers a time when music played from jukeboxes and clubs as he walked down old Walnut Street. It was the 1950s and Clay says the business district between 6th and 13th streets, now Muhammad Ali Boulevard, was lined with theaters, restaurants, black-owned banks and small businesses.

“When you hit Walnut Street, I always referred to it as my yellow brick road, you know,” Clay says. 

Ken ClayRoxanne Scott | wfpl.org

Ken Clay

Clay is co-author of “Two Centuries of Black Louisville: A Photographic History.” He says the federal urban renewal program eventually wiped out the district.

“And we often refer to it here as ‘negro removal,'” he says. “But it tore down this area called Walnut Street and a couple of other areas on the East End of downtown.”

Community leaders now want to bring the old Walnut Street back.

A proposal by the Louisville Central Community Centers, Inc includes arts and culture district, festivals and incubators for new businesses between 6th and 18th streets along Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

“I can see movie theaters, I can see performing halls; I can see art galleries in addition to housing and other types of businesses making it a very flourishing area that people want to come to,” says Clay. “We’re doing it in other parts of Louisville so it’s time to make this a destination point, too,” he says.

The proposal comes at a time when a lot of money is coming into Russell.

In 2015, the city was awarded $425,000 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for revitalization efforts in Russell. This year, HUD awarded Louisville Metro Housing Authority $1 million to continue the effort. Russell is also a finalist for a Choice Neighborhood grant. Winners will be announced by the end of the year and could receive up to $30 million.

Sowande Malone is a photographer and lives in the West End. Malone says his vision for the neighborhood is that  becomes one that is inclusive. 

“It’s so segregated,” he says. “People live in Louisville and don’t even come to the West End, they never even come to the Russell neighborhood. Even though it’s economically challenged, there’s still a lot of pride in this area.”