The Red Barn, date unknown, used to serve as a manufacturing facility for the Caldwell Tank Company. Photo courtesy of UofL Archives and Special Collections.
The Red Barn, date unknown, used to serve as a manufacturing facility for the Caldwell Tank Company. Photo courtesy of UofL Archives and Special Collections.

On Friday, the Red Barn Alumni Association will host a reception in celebration of the Red Barn’s 49th birthday.

That’s quite a milestone considering the facility was once on the brink of destruction. For decades, the building served as a metal fabrication and welding shop for the Caldwell Tank Company. In 1969, UofL purchased the property and scheduled the structure for demolition.

However, according to “The University of Louisville,” by Dwayne D. Cox and William J. Morison, the 5,000-square-foot space appealed to a small group of students who begged administrators for some money to use the building as a concert hall and movie theater. The students were encouraged by a few UofL officials, including George Howe, head of student activities, and Harold Adams, housing director.

A few years later, President James Miller (1973-1980) approved a $500,000 renovation of the building, in response to a “Save the Red Barn” campaign. The renovation, completed in 1979, included a new stage, new lighting and sound equipment, a new roof and the addition of the student activities office.

Since, the Red Barn has hosted a number of events and speakers, including ABC’s “Friday Night Live from the Kentucky Derby” in 1980, when singer Dan Fogleberg premiered his song “Run for the Roses.” The song peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. 

The survival of the Red Barn years after its proposed destruction seems to have conjured up a fierce loyalty from the Cardinal faithful. During the Friday Night Live from the Kentucky Derby event, actor Jack Klugman declared, “If my horse wins the Derby, I’m going to buy this garage and then I’m going to burn it to the ground.”

According to “The University of Louisville,” “the students booed him roundly and commemorated the event by dedicating the Red Barn’s bathrooms to ‘Jack’ and his horse ‘Jaklin.’”

In 1992, the Red Barn Alumni Association established a scholarship in the name of Florence Strickler, the wife of UofL president Woodrow Strickler (1968-1972). Florence supported the original group of students who fought to save the facility and was affectionately known as the “First Lady of the Red Barn,” according to “University of Louisville Belknap Campus,” written by Tom Owen and Sherri Pawson.

In 2007, the building was officially dedicated as the George J. Howe Red Barn. 

Today, the Red Barn continues to host programs of a diverse nature, including concerts, movies, cookouts, meetings, and various other social and administrative events.

With the assistance of the Red Barn Alumni Association, the Red Barn is also home to four endowed programs to benefit UofL students: the Harold Adams Memorial Scholarship Fund, the Red Barn Alumni Association (RBAA) Florence M. Strickler Endowment, the Torchbearer Endowment, and the Louis W. & Louise Weisser Bornwasser Student Emergency Fund. These combined endowments and other Red Barn gifts have provided a total of more than $400,000 in scholarships and aid for UofL students since 1988.

The Red Barn is one of the buildings on the Belknap campus that is part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Friday’s birthday celebration is from 5-8 p.m. at the George J. Howe Red Barn and will include special recognition of the 2018 RBAA Mary Fay Rumford Unsung Hero Award. 

Photo courtesy of UofL’s Archives and Special Collections

Alicia Kelso
Alicia Kelso is the director of social media and digital content. She joined UofL in 2015 as director of communications at the Brandeis School of Law. She also serves as a senior contributor at, writing about the restaurant industry, which she has covered since 2010. Her work has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Bloomberg, The Seattle Times, Good Morning America and Franchise Asia Magazine.