In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Model T. Often called the Tin Lizzie, the car was designed with lightweight sheet steel, so anyone could afford their own. By the 1910s, gasoline-powered cars overtook the market (edging out steam- and electric-powered vehicles), requiring the petroleum industry to produce more gasoline than kerosene and coal oil. As more cars entered our nation’s modest roadways, access to gasoline was essential.
Consequently, for at least the past 100 years, gas stations have been located on prime real estate. According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Park Service, “Surviving historic stations are physical reminders of the transportation revolution and the influence of increased mobility on the landscape. They are a reflection of car culture, pop culture, corporate standardization, and an era of customer service that today seems quaint.”NPS notes in the 1920s and ’30s, oil companies and entrepreneurs began building stations customers would accept in their neighborhoods as a way to gain customer trust and loyalty. To minimize complaints about gas stations in residential areas, several companies designed facilities resembling houses. For example, Pure Oil preferred English Cottage designs while Standard Oil favored Colonial Revival stations. One such neighborhood that required a certain look for its gas station was the Blackstone District of Omaha, Neb. In the early 20th century, the area attracted the city’s wealthiest people and boasted luxurious mansions, a thriving business district and a street car. In 1930, Cleveland-based National Refining Co., which produced White Rose Gasoline, built a station in the Blackstone District that resembled a Tudor Revival-style home with a steep-sloped roof and turrets. The company added service bays for car maintenance to further engrain itself into the neighborhood.
As the years passed, the Blackstone District’s wealth became a memory. The White Rose Service Station shuttered in the 1980s and reopened as an Italian restaurant before closing again. McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe was the last business to occupy the space before closing in 2014. When Jeff Royal, the president of Dundee Bank, a division of Security State Bank, which is headquartered in Ansley, Neb., spotted the former service station, he recognized an opportunity to demonstrate the bank’s intention to help revitalize the Blackstone District. With the help of Omaha-based AO* (Architectural Offices), the iconic station soon would become the second location of Dundee Bank.
A Passion for Adaptive Reuse
AO* was the lead architect on Dundee Bank’s main branch in Omaha’s Dundee neighborhood within the former Buffett & Son Grocery Story. (Warren Buffett worked there in his formative years.) AO* also helped Dundee Bank’s parent company, Security State Bank, complete a historic-tax credit project in Ansley.
Bryan Zimmer, AIA, an AO* principal, says adaptive reuse of existing buildings goes hand in hand with Dundee Bank’s philosophy. “It’s part of Dundee Bank’s mission and part of their brand to help preserve neighborhoods and make them stronger,” he explains.
Zimmer and Royal noticed the White Rose Service Station in 2014 while meeting about a building Dundee Bank had purchased across the street. Royal noticed the unique looking service station and asked Zimmer what he thought.“We could tell it was abandoned,” Zimmer recalls. “It sits at a 45-degree angle between two of the busier streets in Omaha and is iconic. I told him we had to do it.”
The Blackstone District itself is centrally located between three of the largest employers in Omaha: Mutual of Omaha, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Kiewit Construction Co.—all Fortune 500 companies. “It just really baffles me, but somehow we let that area degrade and kind of go vacant for a while,” Zimmer says. “However, in the last five years, two developers have really renovated a lot of the properties and made it a vibrant little district.”
A New Program
Although the former White Rose Service Station was in good structural condition, it was a mess, according to Zimmer, because it had been a restaurant for so long.
To transform it into a bank branch, AO* essentially had to start over with the building’s layout.“All the restaurant stuff had to be removed,” Zimmer says. “There were some pretty poor additions that were on the back of the building for coolers and things restaurants need that we tore off.”
The 3,200-square-foot building includes a 200-square-foot basement, which the design team thought would be suitable for computer equipment. The 1,600-square-foot main floor would accommodate day-to-day banking transactions, such as the teller line. The 1,400-square-foot second floor, which was built in the ’80s for the Italian restaurant, helped make the build- ing viable for Dundee Bank. “The second floor gave us enough square footage to justify the amount of effort it took to redo the building,” Zimmer notes. The second floor features private banking areas, as well as a conference room.
Zimmer says the goals for the design were pretty simple, “We wanted to bring the building back to the character it had as a gas station while meeting the needs for the bank and doing a modern layout within the historic context of the gas station.”
PHOTOS: Kessler Photography unless otherwise noted