There are any number of attractions that cause me to pull my car over and hop out with my camera – historic corner gas stations being near the top of the list. I’ve photographed the ones I know of in Lexington (my favorite is in the Woodland Triangle – now Missy’s Pies, during my father’s college days, it was home to “Anna’s We Wash” laundry), and numerous examples from across the Southeast. So I was devastated last night to see on Instagram images of a Newport, Kentucky, corner gas station, complete with red tile roof, being reduced to rubble.
According to an article in The River City News, the the City of Newport received a $272,000 grant from the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 2007 to move and renovate the building. But in 2014, apparently, the Newport city commission voted to transfer the grant previously allocated for the old gas station to the Riverfront Commons trail project. And the story ended with bulldzoers and senseless waste.
What I find most interesting are all of the holes in this story. Most grants contain language specifying the preservation in perpetuity or certain standards that must be met when dealing with a historic structure. I have no idea what this specific grant entailed, but I find it hard to believe that some sort of use (or buyer) could not be found for this building. And Newport is a Certified Local Government, with a local preservation ordinance…so restoring this building would not have been a leap of the imagination for the city. But again, I don’t know the details of this story.
One of the things I remember most clearly from my graduate school days (thank you Dr. Karl Raitz!) is the desirability of corners as “hot property” during the dawning of the automobile age. I might not recall the source, but if you drive around any Kentucky town, you will notice the evolution of this particular piece of real estate. During the 1920s and 1930s, gas stations and service centers claimed corner parcels to serve their customers. The corner has always been a prime spot, but even more so with the advent of vehicular traffic. So many of these corners, with their distinctive buildings (often of the “house with canopy” type) have been creatively re-used, like the Lower Town Visitor’s Center, pictured above, in Paducah, Kentucky.
Louisville has done a great job in re-purposing many of its historic gas stations, and even Lexington, where a giant hole occupies much of Main Street, the surviving corner gas stations are mostly occupied by businesses – and still serving to attract people traveling from multiple directions. So while I mourn the loss of such an attractive (and fun!) little building in Newport, I am awfully glad that it caught my eye on a cold February day in 2015 and I was able to photograph it before its ignominious end.
** Thanks to the Cincinnati Preservation Collective for capturing the unfortunate demolition of this building and posting the image on Instagram.