Can a dilapidated gas station carry historic significance for the city of Charlotte?

Can a dilapidated gas station carry historic significance for the city of Charlotte?
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Last week, demolition began on the old Goodyear Building at the corner of S. Tryon and E. Stonewall. In its place, two towers will rise in a $300 million mixed-use development project that includes offices, retail and a hotel. Read more about the Tryon Place project here.

A photo of Goodyear’s demolition posted to our Instagram reignited the ongoing debate about Charlotte’s lack of historic and cultural preservation in the face of booming urban development.

In the case of the Goodyear Building, there wasn’t much history to preserve. Emotional ties to the building likely have more to do with its most recent use as an art gallery and event space over the last year than with a relevant position in the city’s past. (Don’t worry, Goodyear Arts has relocated to 516 N. College Street.)

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The Goodyear Building repurposed as an art gallery

The Goodyear building was constructed around 1960 on the former site of a used car lot and a small cafe. The $85,000 building was included in a May 29, 1960 Observer feature on “The Changing Face of Tryon Street” among other new development along the street that the paper said “mirrors the prosperity of Charlotte.”

At the time, the Goodyear Building was the shiny new development wiping out old landmarks. Today, it’s the old landmark making way for a slick new high rise. As the Observer said in 1960, “It’s called, correctly, progress.”

Still, I find arguments that Goodyear was “just a garage” to be an oversimplified justification for the destruction of it and other seemingly nondescript buildings like it. Because when it comes to historic significance in Charlotte, there’s more than meets the eye.

When is “just a building” more than just a building?

A mile down the road from the Goodyear Building is a battered old gas station surrounded by barbed wire. Like the old Goodyear garage, the unimpressive little pink building is easy to overlook but unlike the Goodyear Building, it was actually designated a Charlotte Historic Landmark in 2005, a year after it was identified as an endangered property.

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Standard Oil Company's Historic Landmark designation via cmhpf.org

Standard Oil Company’s Historic Landmark designation via cmhpf.org

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey building, constructed sometime before 1926, is the last surviving pre-World War II filling station in Uptown. According to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, the Standard Oil building is a symbol of “the rise of the automobile as a major mode of transportation into and out of Center City Charlotte.”

The increasing availability of automobiles for the middle class in the 1920s had a direct impact on the urban design of uptown Charlotte, including the addition of parking lots for department stores and service stations like Standard Oil. At the time, Standard Oil was surrounded by mill houses and duplexes along what was then one of the busiest streets in the state.

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Architecturally, the humble little building also carries historic significance in its interpretation of Craftsman-style bungalow design. Its “most distinctive feature” is a flared concrete post centered in front of the retail office. It supports a tiled roof offering protection from the elements to customers and their cars.

Standard Oil isn’t an architecturally impressive building and is, admittedly, easy to dismiss. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t historically significant, which highlights the importance of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmark Commission’s work in preserving properties like it.

The lesson? Don’t judge a building by its crumbling facade.

Interested in weird little seemingly unimportant buildings that are actually historically significant? You might also like this story about the old Home Finance Company building.

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