Wednesday, August 13th, 2008
Apart from Columbus, Indiana is not known as a hotbed of modern architecture. But good examples of it can show up in surprising places. One of these is New Albany, a city in far southern Indiana across the river from Louisville, Kentucky. Three major civic buildings there were done in a modern style, and are clustered together on Spring St. between 1st and Scribner. Here are some pictures.
First is the city-county building.
I think this is a rather handsome structure. According to a historic marker there, this building was originally the site of an 1822 school building that in 1880 became Scribner High School, an all black school. That building was replaced in 1907, then closed in 1952 when desegregation took effect.
The city-county building was constructed in 1961, and according to a plaque there was the first building in the state constructed under Indiana’s building authority act. I’m not familiar with this act, but the Indianapolis city-county building dates from about the same era, so perhaps it had something to do with facilitating joint city-county courthouse replacement projects.
Here is a frontal shot of the entrance.
There were two previous county courthouses in New Albany. The original was built in 1824. This was replaced in 1865. The 1865 court house was razed (similarly to the Marion County Courthouse) when the new city-county building was built. I’m not sure where that was located, but one map I saw had the court house labeled at State and Market, though this might have been the original 1824 ones. Old timers could certainly tell us for sure.
You may have noticed the Corinthian columns flanking the new structure. I presume these were rescued from the old court house. The plaque there says “erected in 1967”, which I presume refers to the column installation. Here’s a closer look.
Here is a rendering I found of one of the old court houses. I do note that there are four Corinthian columns in front of it, though this drawing makes them look taller than these. You can see the discontinuity in the middle of these new columns, so perhaps they removed a section from the middle when installing them in order to give a more human scale.
The library was founded in 1884. It moved into a Carnegie library building at 201 E. Spring St. in 1904. This new library was built in 1969 and the old library building converted into a museum. Here is a picture of that old library, now called the Carnegie Center for Art and History.
Lastly, we’ve got the federal building, which is across 1st St. from the city-county building on the east at 121 W. Spring St. This houses an outpost of the US District Court for Southern Indiana among other things.
These three buildings are all in different styles, yet are clearly all an expression of modernism. They work well with each other, and, probably because of their smaller scale, aren’t the urban planning disasters of so many modernist projects. These are understated, solidly executed projects that blend in so well in their setting that it is easy to almost pass them by without realizing you just passed such a collection of buildings.
I did not have time to contact the local historical society to get all of the details. I could not determine the architect of any of the buildings, for example. But should you be interested in things like this, it should be easy enough to find out.
Note that these buildings are only about a block or two from the I-64 interchange serving downtown New Albany, so are easy to check out even if you are just passing through.