Janesville56.5°

Is building historic or just old?

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
October 17, 2008
— Some Janesville city residents are pleading for the life of a building that is featured in a historic book on gas stations.

The city owns the white-brick gas station at 101 N. Franklin St. and staff will recommend that it be demolished to create green space and save maintenance money, said Brad Cantrell, community development director.


But history buffs say the charming Spanish Colonial-style building has historical significance.


The station, built in 1930, for years has blocked the administration's vision for the block across from City Hall.


The administration has worked to clear the block, where it recently built a police station. But when the gas station's owners refused to sell, architects built the police station around it.


The city did buy the gas station property in 2007 and was ready to tear it down when residents convinced council members to give them time to find a reuse.


A class through Forward Janesville's Leadership Development Academy took up the cause to find a reuse, and the group's report is due at the Monday, Oct. 27, council meeting.


The group failed to find a reuse, but members will ask the city to mothball the building so it can continue the search, said Shannon Ahrens, a group member. Moving the building is cost-prohibitive at $200,000.


Cantrell said the property was "purchased for the long-term campus expansion of our city facilities.


"I think it's the position of the city that there's no historical significance to that building, other than being an interesting building."


Some would disagree, including the authors of a new book that features historic gas stations in Wisconsin and who urge the buildings' preservation. The gas station at 101 N. Franklin is included in the book and is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.


"I think it's just a classic," Ahrens said of the building. "You see so many of these old gas stations turned into useable building."


The Janesville Historic Commission will write a letter to council members stating the merits of the building, said Rich Fletcher, chairman.


Jackie Woods, a member of the Rock County Historical Society and longtime historical advocate, also has written to the council.


"To me, this is a piece of living history," Wood said. Once all the old stations are gone, the only thing left will be the Kwik Trips, she said.


The city as a whole needs to look toward more historic preservation for future generations, she said.


Suggested reuses include a doughnut or coffee shop, outreach space for the police department, a pavilion or tourism office.


Possibly, the building could be painted the same color as the police station to better blend into the campus, Wood said.


But Cantrell said mothballing the building costs money. It also will likely need repairs sometime in the future.


"There may be historical value," he said. "I think it's kind of a charming building, personally. But I think that as the city has grown and the city facilities have grown around it, it's kind of lost its historic context.


Both Ahrens and Wood note that the city has no immediate plans for the property. The police station shouldn't need additional space for at least 15 years.


"Our hope is that they'll put it on a backburner and leave it there," Ahrens said.


"It's not really in anybody's way," Wood said.



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