Why You Should Love Kaden Tower
We asked local architect Scott Kremer of Studio Kremer Architects to talk about one of his favorite Louisville buildings. One condition: He couldn’t name work by his firm, which includes the new addition to the St. Matthews Library and Thomas Nelson High School in Nelson County.
by way of 716 East Broadway
Kremer weaves a tale of architectural evolution, starting with what he calls “the polite yellow-brick building” (architect unknown) at 716 East Broadway. The two-story structure is decorated with floral-pattern terra cotta tiles from the Midland Terra Cotta Co. of Chicago. Those tiles are undoubtedly influenced by the “Father of the Skyscraper,” Louis Sullivan, who softened his massive buildings with terra cotta. (Fun fact: The guy who went on to manufacture these tiles, Joseph N. Glover, got his start in mid-19th century Louisville making clay pots and stone urns, says architectural historian Joanne Weeter.) Sullivan, a giant in his day, mentored the legendary 20th-century architect Frank Lloyd Wright. And Kaden Tower was designed by Wright’s son-in-law and protégé, William Wesley Peters, who worked with Wright on such masterpieces as the famous Fallingwater house in Pennsylvania. Upon Wright’s death in 1959, Peters took over Wright’s firm, Taliesin Associated Architects. (Odd fact: After Peters’ first wife, Svetlana — Wright’s stepdaughter — died in a car accident, he married another Svetlana — this one the daughter of Joseph Stalin. Yes, that Joseph Stalin.)
Why Kaden Tower?
“It’s a bold building,” Kremer says — and people love it or hate it. “It was bold in thinking, bold in siting and bold in execution.” In 1963, when construction of Kaden Tower started on Dutchmans Lane alongside the Watterson Expressway, it rose like a solitary lacy sentinel beside a horse farm, Kremer says. Lincoln Income Life Insurance Co., which hired Peters, “had the bold idea that: We’re going to really plant our flag on the horizon,” Kremer says. “I consider that very bold — even brash.”
Although the pink elevator column and filigreed exterior draw smart remarks from drive-by critics, the engineering deserves admiration. The tower’s 15 stories rise like a tree from the trunk formed by the pink concrete shaft where the exterior elevator ascends. Twelve of those floors are suspended from cantilevered trusses anchored to the tower, which means no structural columns detract from airy interiors. A basement meeting area is surrounded by a semicircular pool, which was originally part of the building’s cooling system. Kirk Cypel, CEO for In-Rel Properties, which bought the tower last year, says that’s no longer the case. Updating the AC is now among the improvement projects they’ve undertaken. “What we don’t want to do is change things,” Cypel says. “We want to reinforce what we believe the original goals were.” In the spruce-up, Cypel’s firm has added pendant lights in the lobby, which allow a stained-glass window to pop. Before, the geometric Wrightian window was lost in the gloom.
Little-known tidbit: When Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow, Olga, toured the building in 1966, her hauteur was so complete that a Courier-Journal writer reported: “Said one Louisvillian who experienced it: ‘I’d have felt more comfortable with Queen Elizabeth.’”
Cover photo: Kaden Tower during construction, 1965. // Courtesy of U of L Archives and Special Collections