Residents tour city-owned former gas station

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Neil Johnson
Monday, August 11, 2014

JANESVILLE—About 30 residents who toured the city-owned former gas station next to the police station Monday saw peeling lead paint in its former storeroom.

They saw crumbling sandstone from old brick that is sifted through the bases of furred-in walls, evidence of roof leaks, tuck-pointing gone bad and wood floors that have seen much better days.

But as the city grapples with whether to raze or repair the former Standard Oil station it bought seven years ago, a group of residents is optimistic about saving it.

Monday, dozens of residents, the city council and city officials walked through the building at 101 S. Franklin St. during a city-orchestrated tour of the property.

The purpose of the tour, officials said, was to give the council food for thought and a view of the building's condition before a set of recommendations comes from the city Aug. 25. That is likely when officials will decide whether to demolish the building at a cost of about $35,000 or shore it up for possible reuse.

The city bought the station with the intent to tear it down for future police station expansion. City Manager Mark Freitag floated a plan in April to demolish the building then. The council halted that plan, instead asking the city to review options and see if any private group might want to save the building.

Immediate fixes would stop roof leaks and shore up a crumbling parapet. That work could cost the city $91,000, but that would be the “minimum” work and would only make the building secure, Manager of Building and Development Services Gale Price said during the tour.

Price said interior repairs to make the building suitable for reuse could cost $250,000.

On Monday, about 15 auto enthusiasts turned out to look around the building. The group, which is calling itself Citizens For Preservation, says it plan to float a proposal to the city prior to Aug. 25 to shore up the building and avert its potential demolition.

Details of that plan have not been released, including how or whether the group would fund fixes to the property, or whether they've got a potential reuse plan.

Tom Skinner, a Janesville resident and auto enthusiast who is part of Citizens for Preservation, brought old pictures of the station and Gazette articles from when it opened in October 1930.

He and other members of the group hope nostalgia and the city's automotive roots as a former General Motors town could push interest to save the building.

“This station was once the biggest one in Janesville. And it's one of the last remaining stations around with that old, Route 66-style Spanish Colonial architecture. It's one-of-a-kind. Part of the this city's history,” Skinner said.

Skinner suggested necessary repairs to the building's membrane roof could be paired with tuck-pointing and repainting the outside in classic, Standard Oil colors of red, white and blue.

Resident Richard Snyder, an organizer of a private group's effort this year to save the city-owned Oak Hill Chapel, which also was threatened by demolition, said he's willing to join the private group's bid to save the gas station.

Snyder launched a failed bid earlier this year to locate a “learning lab” for woodcraft and glasswork in the building.

Snyder said he's worked with the city and contractors to estimate repair costs. He suggested a group could work to raise money for fixes.

“We could not only save it, but bring in contractors and save the city money,” he said.

Last updated: 10:47 pm Monday, August 11, 2014

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