Owners dedicate lives to restoring old sanatorium
The Waverly Hills Sanatorium has loomed over Dixie Highway in southwest Jefferson County since 1926. The building has been through a lot in 82 years: thousands of tuberculosis patients, medical innovations, vandals and an owner who tried to have the building condemned so he could build the world’s largest statue of Jesus.
But current owners Charlie and Tina Mattingly have dedicated the last eight years to making sure one of Louisville’s best-known landmarks doesn’t, like many of its former inhabitants, succumb to an untimely death.
“We purchased Waverly in 2000,” Charlie Mattingly said. “I’d heard a rumor it was for sale and I inquired to a real estate agent who sent me a picture of the building with a wrecking ball next to it. I thought ‘They can’t tear it down.’ I’d heard stories about it all my life. ”
Mattingly was working as a maintenance man at the time and couldn’t afford the $2 million asking price. Several offers had already been made, but they had conditions.
“So I got some money together and threw a price out there, no conditions,” he said. “I offered to pay the liens on the building plus a little extra. (The real estate agent) called back and said OK.”
But finding the money to rehabilitate the old hospital, which has been severely damaged by time, neglect and vandals has been nearly impossible.
“I can’t get a loan because I have no collateral,” Mattingly said.
The money Mattingly makes from tours, the haunted house and his side jobs goes to rehabilitating Waverly. The couple lives on the Waverly property.
“I’ve been contacted by people who want to buy a portion of the building and fix it up, but I’m not here to make some rich person richer. I’m only here to get this project done,” Mattingly said.
Waverly Hills’ owners Charlie and Tina Mattingly have devoted their lives to restoring the old sanatorium.
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The Mattinglys founded the Waverly Hills Historical Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the building and its history.
“All the money comes from tours and the haunted house,” Mattingly said. “No one is paid – they’re all people who volunteer because they see what we’re trying to do and they believe in it.”
Despite the initial lack of funds, repairs had to be made to make the building safe to enter. Mattingly had to board up the windows and doors to prevent people from getting in.
“You can get fined just for having a board missing. It was a real battle the first couple of years because I’d put a board up and the next day one would be missing,” he said.
“There was asbestos all over the place,” he said. “It had to be asbestos-free, which would cost $200,000 to $300,000 to get a contractor.”
So Mattingly took a class on how to safely remove asbestos and did the work himself. He then took another class to become a contractor.
Mattingly had to repair several architectural elements to make the building safe, including the foundation. The previous owner had tried to have the hospital torn down so he could build the world’s largest statue of Jesus. When city officials said no, he dug under the foundation hoping to have the building condemned so he could go ahead with his plans.
“But the building held on,” Mattingly said.
After making the necessary repairs to meet general safety requirements and the standards set by the fire marshal, the Mattinglys were ready to take on tours and the haunted house. The money they have raised so far has gone to repairing the foundation and maintaining the building and making vital repairs.
Mattingly’s ultimate goal is to turn the hospital into a hotel, restaurant and entertainment/meeting center. He also plans to turn the fourth floor into a history museum dedicated to the hospital and the impact the tuberculosis epidemic had on Louisville.
“In one way or another, Waverly will serve the community again,” he said.
Mattingly hopes the museum, which will be outfitted to look like the old hospital, will also tell the story of the doctors and nurses who risked their lives to treat the patients.
“People need to know the sacrifices these people made to help others,” he said. “Could you imagine an ad for nurses calling for them to treat an infectious disease with low pay and they can’t see their families? “
Matingly commissioned a local artist to sculpt a statue of a nurse from the 1930s that stands near the hospital.
“These people treated tuberculosis, caught it and died next to their patients. I’m proud to be here to help carry on their memory,” he said.
When he’s finished with Waverly, Mattingly hopes to rehabilitate other historical buildings.
“I would like to set up a foundation that will take care of Waverly when I’m gone. My philosophy is you don’t really own anything, you just borrow it while you’re alive,” he said.
Waverly Hills has long been known as one of the most haunted locations in the country. Voice-Tribune graphic designer McKenzie Humphreys and Ashley Medley braved Waverly on Halloween with 102.3 The Max FM’s Lambert & Lindsey morning show. Did they see a ghost? Check out Ashley Medley’s Style File at voice-tribune.com to find out!