1934-vintage structure a time capsule of days past
Ottawa West News
It seems an unlikely candidate for heritage status, but a Westboro gas station is garnering city and public support for its historic preservation.
The red-roofed gas station at Richmond Road and Island Park Drive, formerly home to Island Park Autos but now abandoned, is the subject of a staff report that recommends it be granted heritage status under the Ontario Heritage Act.
The report, which goes before the city’s built heritage subcommittee on Aug. 13, has the support of Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, who has been following the process since this past winter. The ball got rolling on the designation with a newspaper column from artist and local historian Andrew King published last September.
“Andrew King’s column got a lot of feedback, so I know there’s a lot of public support for it,” said Leiper.
“The property is owned by Main & Main, who held a number of workshops regarding the site … They know the designation is coming along. As of our last discussion, they aren’t sure of whether they’d oppose (the designation).”
The ‘cottage’-style station, built in 1934 in the Tudor Revival-style that was popular at the time, served as a fuel stop for the growing legions of motorists and as a gateway to the rural areas to the south of Carling Avenue.
For King, the motive behind his quest is simple.
“The nature of this neighbourhood is slipping away and unless we preserve these little pieces of history, we will lose an important connection to our past for our future generations,” said King, who will be making a presentation at the Aug. 13 committee meeting.
“It’s a small building, but many may not know why it’s an important part of our neighborhood history that’s sadly being torn away for infills and condos.”
King said he was “thoroughly impressed with the resolve city staff have shown in helping to recognize this little, but significant piece of historic neighborhood architecture,” adding that the comprehensive staff report served as “a great tribute.”
Main & Main’s preliminary plans called for a one-story retail establishment to be built on the lot, which is zoned to accommodate buildings of up to four storeys. Leiper said that with some creativity on the part of the developer, the use of the site might not have to change much from previous plans.
“Could you build around it, maybe move the building itself? Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the building shifted – the exact location of the building on the lot isn’t that important to me,” said Leiper.
When the report’s recommendation was announced, residents took to Twitter to brainstorm their preferred uses for the building. Not surprisingly, a restaurant or café was the most mentioned idea.
King has his own ideas, some based on past uses of similar buildings.
“In the U.S. this exact style of service station has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places with them being converted into neat restaurants or as tourist info centres,” he said.
“If we plan accordingly, the existing structure could also be integrated into the main floor lobby space of a larger building, much like they did with the old house that’s now Beckta at 150 Elgin Street. Other options could involve moving the structure elsewhere, or making it a year-round enclosed market space.”