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July 30, 2014

Coffee: No weeping for those old silos

For the last fifteen years the University of Louisville has been on a building spree that put its athletic facilities among the best, if not the best, in the country.

To the delight of Cardinal fans, every UofL team plays in new and comfortable venues that enhance the spectator experience. Unlike most colleges, Louisville fans don't have to sit on bleachers and crowd 36-inch rear-ends into 22-inch spaces.

Every stadium, arena and field has chair back seats for the comfort of the loyal Cardinal faithful. Without exception, Louisville fans watch their teams in style.

This week, the area around the Belknap Campus will pause from the hectic building schedule and relish in perhaps the most anticipated construction project of all: the demolition of the ever-present and despised silos on the east side of campus.



For 85 years the 21 silos that composed the soy bean grain elevator have stood like giant monoliths looming over the gleaming, refurbished Louisville campus. They blocked the view of thousands of people that traveled Interstate 65 every day, many passing through town only to have a blemished view of the modern and attractive athletic venues of UofL on Floyd south of Eastern Parkway.

The silos were built in 1929 by W.A. Thomson who also owned a gas distribution business on the same site. Originally the elevator had a Brook Street address but changing landscapes and rerouting of streets in and around campus caused the address to change to Floyd.

Several owners, including Ralston-Purina, ran the plant over the years, and, except as an eyesore in the middle of town, most local citizens paid little attention to what went on behind the large, decorative brick wall. That is until 1981 when the sewers blew.

If you're not old enough to remember a tremendous explosion occurred in the sewers that ran from the plant on Floyd west toward the river and did a great deal of damage to the sewer line and cars and businesses above ground. Stories of manhole covers flying into the air and cars lifting into the air went on for weeks. The legendary Big Bill Johnson wrote a popular song "Where were you when the sewers blew?" that chronicled the event.

It seems that Ralston-Purina had discharged 18,000 gallons of highly inflammable hexane, a product used to extract oil from soybeans. Needless to say the lawsuits went on for years and cost the company millions. MSD alone was paid $18 million and $4 million to the city, state and UofL.

The public relations changed in 1998 when the company agreed to allow a group led by Al Parrish to use the silos to promote the university. Protein Technologies, the company that owned the facility at the time, signed a 10 cent a year contract for ten years to lease the sides of the 11 silos facing I-65 to a group led by Parrish to put 'UNIVERSITY of LOUISVILLE' in large red letters. The city, county and UofL all chipped in $50,000 each to fund the $150,000 necessary for the project.

Despte that sign being gone, no UofL fan will be sorry to see the concrete blemishes disappear.

How long have the silos loomed over the University? Check out this picture of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth at Parkway Field. Look in the background...



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