Geneva property owner and developer Joe Stanton said Monday that the plans for a bank drive-through on the site of the historic Pure Oil gas station building are still on hold.
"No status right now," Stanton said after the Geneva City Council meeting Monday.
Asked if he might take the proposal to the City Council following the Historic Preservation Commission's Feb. 21 denial of a demolition permit, Stanton said, "It's still being discussed, so it's still up in the air."
"It's up to the bank," he added. "It depends on if they want to go forward with it."
Plans presented to the commission sought the demolition of the former gas station in order to provide a drive-through for St. Charles Bank & Trust, as well as additional city parking on adjacent lots. The bank would move into Stanton's building at 524 W. State St., and the drive-through would connect to the east side of the building.
The modern drive-through facility would have a historic architectural appearance.
Stanton and St. Charles Bank & Trust President Tom Hansen made a strong case that an adaptive reuse of the property simply was not a viable option. They noted that the building has no insulation, has numerous places that are crumbling or in need of repair and has simply doesn't have enough square footage to entice new tenants. Stanton said it would cost $360,000 to restore the outside of the existing building and modernize the interior.
The Pure Oil building is presently the home of the Pure Gardener.
The proposed demolition ignited a longtime Geneva discussion about the value of historic preservation versus economic development. About 50 spectators attended the Historic Preservation Commission meeting to offer their opinions in the public forum. Most were passionate supporters of preserving the building, which is said to be one of the few remaining examples of the blue-roofed Pure Oil stations that used to dot the country.
Geneva History Center Executive Director Terry Emma said August Wilson was the general contractor, and the Geneva building "might have been one of the last projects that he did."
Emma lobbied for a vote against the demolition. "Let’s not do something that maybe we might regret later," she said.
According to the Wisconsin Historical Society website, the Pure Oil Company was one of the first American corporations to use architecture as a corporate symbol.
"In 1927 the company adopted a standard 'English Cottage' design that was executed hundreds of times over the following decade. The eclectic design was intended to characterize quaint charm, warmth, and a homey appearance," the website says.
Geneva resident Colin Campbell asked the commission to consider that more banking is done online today than at branch banks.
"With the improving technology, we’re getting to the point where the next move in banking will be to move away from brick-and-mortar banks," he said. "What I fear is if we lose the gas station and put in a drive-through, we’ll have an abandoned eyesore. It might look real nice now, but in a few years, we might really regret it."
Geneva resident and former School Board member Leslie Juby suggested that Stanton and the bank would earn PR points by preserving the building. "I don’t think there’s going to be a whole lot of love if you tear down something that’s very important to (the community)," she said.
Gloria Ann Campbell pointed to a Geneva Chamber of Commerce brochure that shows an artist's rendering of the Pure Oil building on its cover. She described the building as "one of Geneva’s most nationally significant architectural structures."
"We have a treasure in this community. It’s our architecture, it’s the uniqueness, it’s the quaintness," she said. "And as said before, once it’s gone, it’s gone, folks. There once were many of these across the country. There are not many any more. I think it would be a travesty to see this building go."
On Feb. 21, the commission voted 5-1 against the demolition.
Presently, Geneva is looking at ways to revitalize the downtown, which is seeing a number of vacancies in high-profile locations. Not long ago, a representative of Kent Shodeen chastised the city for being unfriendly to development in Geneva's downtown.
Stanton said he has tried every way he can think of to preserve the building and find a win-win, but he is running out of options.
"At some point, you just can’t carry it anymore," he said.