Wrecking ball again aimed at historic gas station
JANESVILLE If the former gas station at 101 Franklin St. were an animal, it would be a cat. The historic building hasn't used up its nine lives yet, but it's getting close.
Faced with a roof that needs repair, the Janesville City Council will decide the building's fate Tuesday.
The station was built in a Spanish-Colonial style with red-clay tile and shed-roofed parapets. It is featured in a book called "Fill'er Up: The Glory Days of Wisconsin Gas Stations" by Jim Draeger and Mark Speltz, and it qualifies for the National Register of Historic Places.
The former service station is a 2,815-square foot building that sits on a 7,230-square-foot parcel. It's future has been in doubt since 2003, when city administration recommended it be torn down to make way for the new police station.
The police station was built around the building, which the city eventually purchased for $92,000 in 2007. In 2008, city staff recommended the council demolish the building and maintain the space for future police station expansion.
That's when a local group called Citizen Advocates for Preservation formed, bemoaning the city's perceived lack of interest in historic preservation. It took the building on as its first client, hoping to find an alternative use for it.
The council decided it would cost more to tear the building down and mow grass than to leave it stand, and it opted to give the group a chance to find an alternative use.
But finding an interested party to buy the structure has proven difficult because the city won't give up ownership, said Shannon Ahrens, a member of the citizens' group. Any renter would be required to sign a 20-year lease and would have to spend his or her own money for renovations.
Now, according to a city memo, there are two options for the building's future: work ranging from a cost of $50,000 to $95,000, or demolition.
Needed repairs include reconstruction of a parapet wall, tuckpointing, infilling of missing bricks, repair of the chimney and coping on top of the wall, according to city staff. The roof membrane needs replacing because of the collapse of the parapet.
In his recommendation, City Manager Eric Levitt acknowledged renovations would cost more than demolition.
"But the tradeoff would be moving forward with a historic building and establishing a use in the future of benefit to the city," he said.
Police now use the building for storage. The citizens' group has recommended the city adapt it for such use as a police safety center or museum, or as conference space.
The group also asked a mason to look at the building, and he reported it is in great structural shape, Ahrens said. The group also has offered its volunteer help to work on the building.
In their book, Draeger and Speltz define the station and others like it as being "ephemeral" because few of the hundreds that were built remain standing.
"Preservation of remaining stations cannot come too soon," they wrote. "It is our hope that our celebration of these stations will spur interest in saving this chapter in American history, and readers will recognize that gas stations are more than just gas: They are touchstones to understanding how the auto shaped the Twentieth Century."
The former Standard station was built as a super-service station in 1930, the book said.
"The building, which survived a threatened demolition in 2002 to make way for a new police station, still stands as a rare intact example of the Standard Oil Company's standardized design for its super-service stations," the book said. "It is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places but, as of early 2008, its future is once again in question."
If you go
Because of the Memorial Day holiday, the Janesville City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St.
Items on the agenda include action on a resolution to partner with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to become a Green Tier Legacy Community. The Sustainable Janesville Committee has recommended the city partner with the DNR to create a sustainability plan for the city.