No. 1: Airplane Filling Station
Located on the side of the busy Clinton Highway, northeast of Knoxville, the Airplane Filling Station catches the eye of passing motorists. Elmer and Henry Nickle built the plane-shaped gas station in 1930 along the newly widened U.S. 25 (Dixie Highway) with that just in mind. Missing only a propeller and landing wheels, the Airplane Filling Station looks similar to Charles Lindbergh’s famous Spirit of St. Louis. But the practicality of a plane-shaped building eventually limited the use of the property, which stopped selling gas in the 1960s. The building took on new uses over the years—a liquor store, used car dealership—as its wood elements deteriorated. Since 2003 a non-profit organization formed to preserve the building, the Airplane Filling Station Preservation Association has been slowly restoring the “airplane.” Although the first phase to purchase and stabilize the structure is complete, the economic downturn has delayed further work. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, it is the only example of mimetic architecture in the state, and is arguably one the best surviving of its type in the nation. While not in immediate danger, money must be raised to continue to restore this one-of-a-kind roadside property.
Contact: Rock Bernard, Airplane Filling Station Preservation Association, (865) 933-7158
Photo: Brian Stansberry / Creative Commons
No. 2: Bartles-Maguire/Wadhams Service Station
Situated on a prominent corner of East Broadway in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the Bartles- Maguire Oil Company service station opened in 1929 in a Tudor Revival “house” style gas station, featuring a brick chimney and steep gables. The gas station went through a series of owners and different uses, most recently a car rental. In May 2010 the YMCA purchased the vacant building, with the intention of tearing it down for a parking lot. In reaction, the property was designated a Local Landmark in July 2010. The YMCA appealed the designation to the Waukesha Administrative Review Appeals board, which upheld the landmark listing in January 2011. A month later, the YMCA announced they would put the gas station up for sale.
A provision in the City of Waukesha’s Landmarks Ordinance allows an owner of a historically designated property to petition to have the listing rescinded, if, after making a good faith effort, the property does not sell. If the petition is made, the Waukesha Landmarks Commission will have 60 days to find a buyer; failing that, the designation will be removed. With a letter from the YMCA stating they plan to petition, the future of this historic gas station is in jeopardy.
Contact: Mary Emery, (262) 547-8364
Photo courtesy Mark Ludwig
No. 3: Boots Motel
Built in 1939 by Arthur G. Boots, this Streamline Moderne-influenced motel, with its once distinct pink and green neon, evolved into a Route 66 icon. After Arthur’s wife, Ilda Boots, passed away, the motel was sold several times. The most recent owner tried to negotiate a deal with Walgreens to build a new store on the property, but Route 66 advocates and community members rallied to save the motel from demolition. Walgreens decided to build elsewhere, and while the motel remains, its maintenance has ceased and it is now used for long-term rentals. Damaged by a storm, its broken neon dangles from the building; the vacancy sign on the office reads only “ANCY.” The property is again for sale. Ron Hart of the Carthage-based Route 66 Chamber of Commerce is looking into purchasing the property to preserve it as a vintage motel, and potentially a museum. But until that happens, the future of this Route 66 landmark is unknown.
Contact: Ron Hart, Route 66 Chamber of Commerce, (417) 385-6966
Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation
No. 4: Buckhorn Baths
Buckhorn Baths, a ten-acre oasis of palms, gardens and Spanish bungalows, sits along Mesa’s busy Main Street, a reminder of the town’s former life as a desert resort community. Closed for over a decade, future restoration and reuse of the property is growing less likely as the surrounding area redevelops for commercial use.
History: The business opened as a service station in 1926 on US Highway 60, the Apache Trail. During expansion of the establishment in the 1930s, the owners discovered a mineral well on the property, and constructed Roman-style bathhouses and guesthouses for visitors. In the 1940s the baths played a role in bringing the New York Giants spring training camp to Mesa, leading to the eventual establishment of Mesa as a center for baseball spring training. The resort remained open and operated by its original owner until 1999. The buildings are remarkably intact, which helped their listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
Threat: The property has been for sale since 1999. It is still owned by the original owner, Alice Sliger, who is in advance of 100 years old. It is feared that if a suitable buyer does not come forward, the property could be sold for redevelopment. Buckhorn Baths is located in a transitional area that is currently undergoing redevelopment—including a new Walgreens across the street. In 2007, the Arizona Preservation Foundation included the property on the Arizona’s Most Endangered Historic Places list.
Owner: Alice Sliger, 480-823-1111
Advocate: Vic Linoff, Mesa Historical Museum Board, 408-835-7358
Photo courtesy Emily Koller
No. 5: Diving Lady, Starlite Motel
The “Diving Lady” is an animated, three-part neon sign of a woman diving into electric blue water. A local landmark, she could be seen making her plunge at least two miles in each direction from her home at the Starlite Motel on Main Street. But October 5, 2010, a severe storm sent her crashing to the ground, shattering the sign’s neon and twisting its metal. The recently formed Mesa Preservation Foundation is working with the owner and a neon sign shop to restore the sign. The restoration will be costly—$60,000- 70,000. Already the middle figure of the sign has been restored and is on display at a Mesa shopping mall. The foundation is hoping national attention will help fundraising to complete restoration and reinstallation of this famous lady. As part of the 2011 Falling by the Wayside listing, the Society for Commercial Archeology is contributing $250 to assist the restoration.
Contact: Vic Linoff, Mesa Preservation Foundation, (480) 967-4729
Photo courtesy John Murphey
No. 6: Doo Wop Motels
Potentially the largest collection of mid-century modern motels in the United States, the Doo Wop Motels of the Wildwoods, New Jersey are threatened. Despite their photogenic popularity, the area comprising the National Register-recognized “Motels of the Wildwoods” has lost nearly 50% of its vintage motels since the late 1990s. Real estate development and speculation has resulted in demolition of nearly 100 motels, including the notable Casa Bahama Motel, while others, such as the Singapore Motel, have undergone significant renovation, undermining their original appearance. The local government does not recognize the Doo Wop Historic District and there are no ordinances to prevent demolition or unsympathetic renovations. While chronicled in books and dozens of websites, without a preservation ordinance to protect them, the long-term future of these eye-catching motels is unknown.
Contact: Dan Mac Elrevey, Doo Wop Preservation League, (609)-523-1958
Photo courtesy Michael Hirsch
No. 7: Giant Santa
With his left his left arm outstretched, the Giant Santa once greeted cars and trucks pulling into the Busler Truck Stop, a discount gas station and 24-hour restaurant off U.S. 41, north of Evansville. But with the gas station now closed—its pump islands and restaurant sealed off by a chain of limestone boulders—Santa waves to no one. Measuring at least 30 feet, the fiberglass Santa Claus statue is one of the tallest in the United States. With no maintenance, the statue paint has faded and his body is now home to hundreds of pigeons. With the property for sale and prime redevelopment, the fate of this huge St. Nick is problematic.
No. 8: Premiere Lanes Sign
A burst of blue and red stars, the Premiere Lanes sign sits orphaned on a cleared lot, its advertised namesake demolished for redevelopment. Revealing the spirit of the space age, the sign is adorned with nine “sputnik” star forms. Tall with a huge signboard, the sign, though for sale, is too big to be tucked away in a museum. With no local preservation ordinance to protect it, it likely will be dismantled and parted, with its sputniks going into private ownership. Premiere Lanes, a major regional bowling center, and once home to a chapter of the Japanese-American Citizens League, closed in 2008. While there are several dozen space-age signs across the United States, perhaps none have more sputniks or is of this scale.
No. 9: Roundtop Filling Station
It’s a Hansel and Gretel fairytale building surrounded by an acre of asphalt. Constructed in 1936 for the Pierce Oil Company, the Roundtop Filling Station was designed in the mimetic style, taking on the look of a giant mushroom. Situated on U.S. 67 between Little Rock and St. Louis, the gas station saw a steady stream of traffic for nearly 50 years. When bypassed by a new highway in the 1970s, the storybook gas station lost its business. For years it sat abandoned, stripped of its pumps, sign and lights. In 2008, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The City of Sherwood, its owner, hopes to preserve the fairytale building, and is looking for grants to repair the partially torn off roof, broken windows and door. But until then, the mushroom-shaped former service station sits vacant.
Contact: Ralph Wilcox, (501) 324-9880
Photo courtesy Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
No. 10: Wagon Wheel Motel
The Wagon Wheel Motel, a ranch house-like motel of turquoise board and batten buildings and decorative wagon wheels, once sprawled across this site. The motel came about when Oxnard booster and real estate developer, Martin “Bud” Smith, bought an old hog farm and moved in surplus Seabee barracks from nearby Port Hueneme, arranging them in a “U” shape to create a motel court. To give the place a ranch look, Smith reportedly hired Roy Beatty, a Hollywood set designer to design the wrought-iron lamp fixtures and the decorative rustic furniture once found in each room. During its heyday, the Wagon Wheel was a local fixture and prominent stop on U.S. 101. But over the years it lost its customers, closed and became a boarded up eyesore. When word got out that the motel could be demolished for a mixed-use commercial project, local preservation groups rallied to save the property. The San Buenaventura Conservancy filed an appeal to stop demolition under the California Environmental Quality Act, arguing that preservation of a small two acre portion of the motel and restaurant was feasible given the size of the 64-acre project. But on March 17, an appellate court upheld a lower-court ruling permitting demolition. The Wagon Wheel Motel and associated buildings were demolished a week later. According to the San Buenaventura Conservancy, there is no foreseeable date as to when redevelopment will start, as the project sponsor is waiting for the economy to recover.
Contact: San Buenaventura Conservancy, (805) 652-1000
Photo courtesy John Murphey