Louisville Magazine

AUG 2014

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/352322

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Page 67 of 148

LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.14 49 "Tey're opening a gelato place," Owen says. "Do you know how many people I've had to explain what gelato is?" don't get any more thrown-up-by-night crap. I hope we get solid buildings like we had, places that won't be up for ru- ins after they fail fve, six years from now. Tis place could be made better. So many people are poverty-stricken, and they resort to drugs and alcohol. But that's every neighbor- hood; it's just more known here. We are kept in a negative light. Live out in Prospect and you'll get recognized. We go unnoticed. Sometimes I think the city of Louisville would prefer Portland didn't exist." O wen leads me down Portland Avenue, smoking his cigarette. We step past Annie's Pizza, which has been around for about 25 years, and under the iconic vertical sign of Shaheen's Department Store, which opened in 1922. Kevin Shaheen, 56, shakes my hand and talks over the counter. I ask if he's worried about new competition. "It's great. I'm not worried about it. We can't get run out; we own the property!" he says. "Tere's not a person in the trades that doesn't come here," Owen says. "Tat was more so in the past than it is now," says Shaheen, glancing at a photo of his grandfather's baseball team on the wall. "We used to have all the Carhartt work clothes." Te store has grown into the 21st century, draw- ing lines out the door for the release of new sneakers. Country music plays at Janes Brothers Hardware Store across the street. We walk over the creaky wood foor, be- tween the narrow aisles full of buckets of nails and screws. A heavy clerk decked out in UK blue clutches a Mellow Yellow and eyes me. I meet Andy Janes, who says his father and uncle opened the store 65 or 66 years ago. "Where is old Bob?" Owen asks. "He still playing his fddle?" Janes smiles at Owen and turns to me. "I think what Gill Holland is doing is positive," he says. "Anything that helps. Gentrifcation could be a problem. Te city's tearing down the projects and everything. People are running out of places to go, and Portland is where they get pushed. Te city's pushing one way, and Gill Holland is pushing the other way. But I think it'll work out great. Holland is talk- ing about making fair and reasonable homes to own." Down the street, Owen opens the rusty door of the Portland Grocery. Te place looks like a bunker from the outside, a bare living room on the inside. Te foor is soft, and I almost knock over a sack of soda cans by the door. Te owner, 64-year-old Carroll Hopewell, lounges in a fold-out chair in a stained white T-shirt. He pulls a cap down over his head, shoots me a few-teeth-short-of-a-smile grin, and shakes my hand. He's been running the grocery for 27 years. "Who you work for? Louisville Magazine?" he says. He looks through a drawer behind the counter, pulls out a September 1990 issue of the magazine and fips to a photo of the street outside. It looks about the same as now. "You hear people talking; they're blowing smoke," he says. I ask about the Faulkner Gallery and Hillbilly Tea. He snickers. "You think people around here are interested in art?" he says. Owen looks at his feet. "You know what I tell people?" Hopewell says. He sucks in a great breath and pufs out his cheeks. "Don't hold your breath. Tey put that stuf here, it won't last long." As we turn to leave, Hopewell adds, "I wish it would work." S tepping into the Portland Museum feels like walk- ing underwater after the June heat outside. Te lights in the exhibit go down. A man's voice plays over a speaker. "Welcome to Portland — the land, the river and the people." A light goes up over a three-dimensional map of the Ohio River. Two-inch tall Native Americans spear tiny bison stuck in mud. Te history of Portland plays out in miniature sets and automated voices. Lights lead to min- iatures of the early town on Water Street, storefronts with French, Irish and German names. Portland joins Louisville by annexation in 1837, gains independence in 1842, joins again in 1852 — tossed in and out of Louisville at the be- hest of businessmen looking to take advantage of railroad routes. Te presentation takes about 25 minutes. Executive director Nathalie An- drews, a short woman with quick eyes and close-cropped gray hair, taps her fngers on her desk when I ask how Portland came to be. "In the 19th cen- tury, it was pretty rough and tumble. It was a town of boatmen," she says. "But there was a very genteel class, a lot of European immi- grants who had high hopes. Tey built beautiful homes." Boats had to stop in the area and wait for the Ohio River falls to become passable. An act of the state legislature al- lowed people to become falls pilots, boatmen who guided vessels over the dangerous waters. Gen. William Lytle, a developer in Cincinnati, won a considerable amount of land around Portland in a card game with Kentucky politician Henry Clay. He decided Portland needed a canal. It was fnished in 1830. "Portland is a little river town," Andrews says. But river life isn't easy. Te 1937 food displaced thousands of people. Police of- fcers from the East Coast, the Red Cross and the National Guard came to help. Louisville fell under martial law. Gas tanks foated down streets. Houses exploded. Soldiers beckoned families of roofs and into boats, syringes in hand. People worried about typhoid as they foated over the streets they'd walked on for years. Ninety people died. WPA workers tossed 3,000 farm animals into a mass grave. "It was devastating. People had to move out. To the Highlands, to the South End, to the East End," Andrews says. Te city built a foodwall between 1948 and 1954, cutting Portland of from the river. Te neighborhood is now a peninsula of damning borders, cut of to the east by the scar of Ninth, cut of to the west by I-264, cut of from the river by the foodwall, like a child kept from an abusive parent. "Is that it, then? How'd it go from a bustling river town to this?" I ask. "Tat's hard to answer," Andrews says. Racial tension didn't help. "Tat was another really bad policy. Te Ninth Street corridor was made wide to keep black people and poor people in the West End. Tey were protesting for open housing, threatening to block the track at Derby. 'We can't have this! Let's make a big barrier!' We're paying the price for a bad policy." Portland's distrust of Louisville makes more and more sense as Andrews keeps talking. She brings up Portland Wharf Park. In 2000, the museum collaborated with the city's parks department to turn the old Water Street

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