NEWS- Tune-up time: Historic service station for sale
A year ago, Fry's Spring Service Station was poised to become the first gas station on the Virginia Landmarks Register– until the proposal was yanked when the two brothers who were heirs to the property couldn't agree about the designation. Today the station is on the block– and with its current zoning, conceivably could become apartments.
Jimmy Houchens has run the repair shop for decades with his daughter, Kristy, and they don't want to see that happen. Nor does the realtor. Nor the city. But after the nearby historic Edward Bradbury-designed Compton/Beta House on Maury Avenue was demolished over the Christmas holiday to make way for a massive 25,000-square-foot Jefferson Scholars Foundation headquarters, many people are skeptical about the city's ability to protect its vintage properties.
"I thought it was historically protected," says Kristy Houchens about the Beta House. "It's kind of sad. It's always been there."
Houchens is also saddened that her father has to sell the station where he's worked for 40 years and she for 20– without its historic landmark designation.
Real estate agent Deanna Cropp says she's gotten between 20 and 30 calls since the station was listed a few weeks ago for $950,000. "I haven't talked to anyone who wants to tear it down," she says. "Most people love the facade."
The one third-acre property is zoned R-3, which allows multi-unit housing. Cropp is dubious that apartments would be a good investment, given the cost of the land. "You could only get 10 units," she says.
Fry's Spring Service Station was built in 1931 and heralded the age of the auto. Its design came from a book, and there's another similar one in Belmont, says city planner Mary Joy Scala. The differences in the Jefferson Park Avenue version are its art deco bathrooms and its Jeffersonian columns outside. "There's wonderful detail under the porte cochère," Scala says.
Charlottesville is working to prevent the service station from suffering the same fate as the Beta House. The Board of Architectural Review has recommended a dozen priority properties it wants to protect, including the Fry's Spring Beach Club, Coca-Cola bottling plants on Preston Avenue and 10th Street NW, and the Monticello Dairy building, and will consider recommending Planning Commission/City Council action at its April 29 meeting.
The Virginia Landmarks Register still gives the service station the thumbs up. "We'd love to register it," says Randy Jones with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. "It's really up to the owners if they want to move it forward." That would be the new owners. And from there, the National Register of Historic Places usually is the next stop.
Scala has a vision for the historic station, which she calls a "very intact" property, and she thinks the location is great for pedestrians.
"The best thing that could happen would be for someone to purchase it, rehabilitate it and get the tax credits," she says. "That would be ideal."