Book features Janesville gas stations

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Friday, October 17, 2008
— Pagodas, teepees, castles and even Tudor Revivals.

The early gas stations were often something to behold.

Beginning in the 1920s, gas station owners put an emphasis on architecture to appease residents who wanted better aesthetics.

The owners also fought a growing public perception that their business was ugly, dirty work that drew "seedy, shifty-eyed opportunists who were eager to make a quick buck," according to a history of gas stations, "Fill'er Up: The Glory Days of Wisconsin Gas Stations."

The book, written by Jim Draeger and Mark Speltz, recently was published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

Not too many of those early showplaces remain. They were torn down because of competition, obsolescence, changing transportation needs, housing patterns and stronger environmental regulations, the authors write.

The authors define the buildings as being "ephemeral" because few of the hundreds that were built remain.

"Preservation of remaining stations cannot come too soon," they say.

One station featured in the book was torn down before the book was printed.

"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."

Two Janesville stations are among the 59 featured in the book.

The Standard station at 101 N. Franklin is owned by the city and is being considered for the wrecking ball.

It was built as a super-service station in 1930.

"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," according to the book. "It is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places but, as of early 2008, its future is once again in question."

The station was built in Spanish-Colonial style, with decorative tile insets and red-clay tile, shed-roofed parapets.

It cost $12,000, more than double the cost of a home at the time.

The second station is at 720 Center Ave. and was built in 1925 for $500. At 200 square feet, its steep roof gives the structure a cottage feel.

Bob Tracey bought the property where the station stands in the late 1990s and maintained the small building for storage. It inspired the design of the large convenience store he built nearby.

Last updated: 10:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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