Gardens to Gables

A Sad Ending: The Corner Store at East Third and Race Streets, Lexington, Kentucky

Too often, historic buildings are lost to the siren song of redevelopment, bulldozers sending dust and debris flying so quickly that it is hard to believe that generations of people used and occupied the structures so quickly tumbled to the ground. When I read in the paper this morning that the building at the corner of East Third and Race Streets in Lexington had collapsed yesterday evening, I groaned, but knew that its obituary had been written years before, as the frame building sat empty and unmaintained.

Before the collapse, the building at the corner of East Third and Race Streets, March 2015.

Before the collapse, the building at the corner of East Third and Race Streets, March 2015.

In the historic preservation community, the loss of this building would be termed “demolition by neglect.”While that appears to be the cause of the building’s demise, the comments by neighborhood residents reveal relief that a blight and eyesore is now gone. If someone had been able to invest in the building years ago, this might not have happened – but Lexington’s East End has been the victim of neglect for decades now, both by government entities and some property owners.

The corner of East Third and Race, August 2015.

The corner of East Third and Race, August 2015.

There are encouraging signs – the Charles Young Center appears to be receiving more attention and care than in the years past, and the Lyric Theater has hopefully emerged from its contentious existence of the last 20 years. But many more historic dwellings and corner stores remain at threat – this is a social discourse I am perhaps not equipped to decipher. But what I can do is provide a snapshot of what this building was before its quiet and inelegant deterioration, a process more commonly acknowledged among people.  The rigors of old age and disease may sometimes rob our loved ones of their strength and the spark of personality we cherish – but that doesn’t mean they were always thus. So it is with the historic buildings around us.

A section of the 1901 Sanborn map showing the building at 314 and 316.

A section of the 1901 Sanborn map showing the building at 314 and 316.

The 1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance doesn’t include the corner of East Third and Race Street in it coverage area – but it does appear on the 1901 Sanborn map. Based on the stylistic details of the building, including the elongated windows, incised lintels, and bracketed cornice, it could date from 1880 to 1900. And although it is described as one building, it operated as two connected buildings, which is clearly visible on the maps and if you walked by on the street.

A detail of the upper story of 500 East Third Street.

A detail of the upper story of 500 East Third Street.

On the 1901 and 1907 Sanborn maps, the section of the building next to Race Street was two stories, and first noted as grocery (1901) and then a saloon (1907).

The subject building, now noted as being at 500 and 502 East Third Street.

The subject building, now noted as being at 500 and 502 East Third Street.

The part of the building listed as 502 East Third was only one story, with a porch on the facade, and labeled as a dwelling.  In the 1927 Polk’s City Directory, the two-story, right hand section was home to a Kroger’s Grocery Store. Next door was the People’s Drug Company, and the residence of R.M Cooper and his wife, Veenie. Cooper was the President of People’s Drug Company, and the fact that 502 East Third was now a combination commercial/residential building indicates that the second story had been added.

The Race Street elevation of 500 East Third Street.

The Race Street elevation of 500 East Third Street.

According to a story in May 20, 1920 edition of the Lexington Leader, The People’s Drug Company, was  “a new corporation of Lexington” and had “purchased the stock of goods and fixtures of Callis Brothers’ drug stores at Bowling Green, one of the largest drug firms in the State.” I didn’t uncover much about the Coopers, but their stay in Lexington must not have been long. In 1932, Consolidated Drug Stores, Inc. called 502 East Third home, and no occupants were listed in the city directory. Kroger’s Grocery and Baking Company was still located next door at 500 East Third.

A detail of the storefront of 502 East Third Street.

A detail of the storefront of 502 East Third Street.

The building continued to serve as grocery store until after World War II, but by the 1960s, Lexington was a state of long overdue flux, and desegregation radically changed the nature of the commercial districts in Lexington’s historically black neighborhoods. In the 1990s, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, the building was the East End Variety Shop. Now, it is a pile of debris, and what was once a pivotal corner in a bustling neighborhood awaits its latest transformation.

Rebuilding is a cycle all communities experience, whether through expansion, natural disaster, or “updating” and redeveloping. There have been some positive overtures on this side of Lexington in the last few years. While I mourn the loss of a type – the frame corner commercial building (always more vulnerable than its brick kin), I hope that whatever replaces it on this spot is a building embraced by the neighborhood, of the neighborhood, and a space that will continue the steps toward revitalization and rebirth. Because even as it drifted toward its eventual ignominious end, the former Kroger Grocery/Drugstore was always more than the eyesore it had become. It was once a vibrant, living structure that was home, business, and a healthy and cherished part of a community – and we would do well to remember its history, just as we try to build a better future.

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6 Thoughts on “A Sad Ending: The Corner Store at East Third and Race Streets, Lexington, Kentucky

  1. ginny daley on August 9, 2015 at 3:21 pm said:

    Wow, I loved this building and always wondered about its history as a neighborhood retail space. I always hoped someone would rejuvenate the space. Sad to see it go.

  2. The Lexington Streetsweeper on August 10, 2015 at 11:08 am said:

    In the late ’60s to early ’70s, this location was a liquor store. When the Woodland Drug store closed and the entire stock of alcohol products needed to be moved, I assisted in transferring many cases to this location. I then sadly watched the neighborhood decline to what it is today.

    There is much development opportunity for this corner if somebody will just grab for it.

    • Janie-Rice Brother on August 11, 2015 at 11:53 am said:

      I just hope someone with some good design sense and appreciation of the neighborhood grabs it…

  3. Steve Baron on August 11, 2015 at 11:06 am said:

    Thanks for writing a proper obituary for this building, maybe the last of its type in Lexington.

  4. Chris Ertel on August 26, 2015 at 11:55 pm said:

    Thank you so much for this post. What a lost opportunity. This building if restored could have been a real asset again to the East End. It is ironic that the neglect that left the building unadulterated by ugly siding or other modern alterations led to its demise. From the reports I heard it doesn’t sound like the building inspectors were really on the ball but that probably would have led to it being torn down even sooner. I was sad to hear comments on how the neighbors were glad to see it gone and believe that will lead to a new business being built there. Most likely it will remain another vacant lot like the other corner. Anyway its good to know I’m not the only one who regrets its passing. Now there is even less left in the area from the era of the Kentucky Association track.

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