Printing, building changes bring back memories for former editor

Former Herald-Leader associate editor William J. Hanna
Former Herald-Leader associate editor William J. Hanna

Printing the Lexington Herald-Leader in Louisville, and eventually moving the Herald-Leader staff to new offices in Lexington, makes sense in this digital age of mass communications.

What doesn’t make much sense is the flood of memories — about the previous old building at Short and Market streets and the relatively new structure at Main Street and Midland Avenue — that washes over the minds of those who saw the transition firsthand. After all, the current building is only 36 years old (opened Aug. 24, 1980). Where Lexington buildings are concerned, that’s akin to being a newborn.

The move is further proof that the paper is advancing its role in the digital age, while at the same time showing respect for the printed word of newspapers. Louisville’s Gannett Publishing Services will begin printing the Herald-Leader this week. Other divisions — news, advertising and circulation — will remain in Lexington, but eventually relocate to a new building once the current one is sold.

Possible buyers and users of the Midland building already have been discussed by many downtown talkers.

I recall that on the first work day in 1980 at the new building on Midland, employees looked forward to many advantages. Parking was available to those who drove to work. Work spaces were roomy and efficient. There was a cafeteria, comfortable restrooms, storage space, an exercise room and spacious elevators.

It was a contrast to the previous building on Short Street. That structure had outlived its usefulness and was antiquated in every sense of the word. There was no parking. At that time in the old building there were two newspapers, the afternoon Leader and the morning Herald. The news staff of each paper had to share an office and desks.

The Leader news staff came on duty at 6 a.m. and had to leave promptly at 3 p.m. to make room for the Herald staff. The news staffs were competitive, and that situation did not make the work space any easier. Each staff tried to find out what the other was doing because they used the same desks.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the old building was the architectural abomination of the outside. It consisted of a facade of blue and white heavy plastic, which made the building look like a stack of building blocks. It was so unsightly that it earned for the paper the title of “ugliest building in Lexington” — and rightly so.

We were not at all distressed to leave Short and Market. The pride and pleasure employees displayed that first day at the Midland building featured a leader whose smile was the broadest. He was Creed Black, president and publisher of the papers at the time.

The impressive building was known to many locals as “Creed’s Baby.” He was the prime mover in the conception, planning and completion of the building. Creed was ably assisted by Tom Buckner, general manager, and Tom Adams, circulation director. Hugh Bennett, a local architect, was hired to design the building on Midland. It was an astute move. In later years other newspaper owners visited the building to get ideas if they were planning a new plant.

The building in effect brought the Herald-Leader into the digital age, where it is moving even more rapidly.

One memory of that great day in 1980 is embedded in my mind. My office was located on the fourth floor overlooking Midland Avenue. I was between the offices of Creed Black and Steve Wilson, editor of the Leader. Toward noon on that first day, Creed walked into my office. “Well, Bill,” he said, “How do you like your new digs?”

“Great,” I replied, with all the enthusiasm I could muster.

“Let’s go to the Lafayette Club and have lunch to celebrate,” Creed said.

During our two-martini lunch, several other patrons and club officials came by to congratulate us. Creed was in his glory. I was willing to share it, although my role had been small. He raised his glass in a toast, “Bill, I believe we have arrived. What do you think?”

“I think we’ve definitely moved uptown,” I replied.

William J. Hanna served in various news and editorial capacities from 1949 until he retired from the Herald-Leader in 1987. He is 94 years old and lives in Lexington.