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3: Save the Playhouse

Entire Collection:

The Emilie Strong Smith (Mrs. Macauley Smith) papers document three of Mrs. Smith's many endeavors to support the performing arts on both a local and an international level. Probably because all of the material deals at least indirectly with performance music in Louisville, Mrs. Smith gave the collection to Marian Korda at the University of Louisville School of Music in 1987. In 1988, Ms. Korda sent the materials to the University Archives and Records Service. The documents are arranged chronologically in three series, which include the "Chamber Music Society," the "Lee Luvisi Fund," and the "Save the Playhouse" campaign.

Mrs. Smith served as president of the Board of Trustees of the Chamber Music Society from 1953 to 1958. This series is composed almost entirely of carbon copies of the minutes and agendas of the meetings of the Board of Trustees. Also included are some notes of the Program Committee, which selected the musicians and the music for each performance. These might give the researcher and indication of the quality of players CMS was able to attract. In addition, there is an unidentified seating chart, which appears to be an arrangement of "endowed chairs" for donors.

The second series of the collection pertains to a special trust fund devoted to furthering the career of pianist Lee Luvisi, a Louisville native. Established in 1971 with donations from Mrs. Smith, Louise Jones Hickman. Dorothy Norton Clay, Jane Morton Norton, and Mary and Barry Bingham, the "Lee Luvisi Fund" gave Luvisi the financial independence he needed to act as his own agent, scheduling concerts across the United States and in Europe. When the three-year term of the fund expired. Luvisi declined the donors' offers of further patronage, believing that the original fund had served its purpose well, and that he was highly enough regarded in the musical world to strike out on his own. The series is made up primarily of three types of documents; newspaper reviews of Luvisi's performances, bank statements, and letters and "reports" between Luvisi and the donors.

The final series, the "Save the Playhouse" campaign, is the largest and most comprehensive of the collection. The 1975 Long Range Development Plan of the University of Louisville called for the removal of the Belknap Playhouse to make room for what became the Ekstrom Library. The Playhouse, which dates from 1873, and which was originally the Chapel for the House of Refuge, was to be dismantled and rebuilt on a site just south of the Speed Museum. Mrs. Smith's desire to save the Playhouse was the combination of a practical preservationist stance with a long-standing emotional attachment dating at least to the Chamber Music Society's performances there. In January, 1976, she enlisted the aid of several like-minded friends, and launched a campaign to persuade the University to leave the Playhouse intact on its original site and to build the new library around it. The campaign included nominating the Playhouse to the National Register of Historic Places, newspaper advertisements calling for public support, letters to the editors of the Courier-Journal, the Times, and the Cardinal, and countless letters between Mrs. Smith, John Cullinane (a Louisville architect), University president James G. Miller, and Governor Julian Carroll and his staff. In November of 1976, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, impressed with Mrs. Smith's strategy, asked her to speak at its annual convention, held in Louisville that year. The Playhouse was used as a case study for "Public Relations of Preservation."

By late 1979 it was clear that the "Save the Playhouse" campaign had failed. The Playhouse was dismantled and moved to a site many consider even more inappropriate than the one originally proposed. In spite of this, these papers are of interest to preservationists and to historians of the University.

This series includes the pages of a chronological "scrapbook" compiled by Mrs. Smith, a vast number of other letters and newsclippings, and other documents, both "official" and otherwise, pertaining to the fight to save the Playhouse.


  • 1953-1980


Entire Collection: 1.25 linear feet (2 mss boxes and 1 parcel)


Repository Details

Part of the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections Repository

Ekstrom Library, Lower Level Room 17
Louisville KY 40292
502 852-6752