BOISE — A 1960s-era gas station on State Street is getting a makeover.
In a few weeks, a former Phillips 66 fuel station on the fringe of Boise’s North End will be transformed into a modern office space for an interior design firm, after roughly five years of sitting vacant.
Stacy and Thames Kral, owners of the property, are undertaking a complete historic renovation of the building to restore its iconic red and white batwing-style roof and distinctive mid-century architecture that has long disappeared from much of the United States.
“I think it will be really neat to preserve a piece of history and a building that is a unique, funky architecture,” Stacy Kral said. “It reminds people of an era that once existed.”
The station, at 3130 W. State St., was built in 1964 and represents one of the most iconic styles of gas stations from the era. In response to calls that gas stations were eyesores along the sides of America’s increasingly busy highways, Phillips Petroleum Company hired architect Clarence Reinhardt to create a standard flashy design for stations to be built in over 20 states.
He was inspired by the funky roofs and colors of diners in Los Angeles and the geometric patterns commonly found in mid-century architecture, and came up with the basis for the design rooted in the famous ‘Googie’ style. The station is the only one of its kind in Boise, and is one of a handful in Idaho.
Stacy Kral said this station will be the second of these Clarence Reinhardt stations to be on the National Register of Historic places, and the first to use tax credits to help pay for the restoration.
The building was located just inside Boise’s city limits, along the quickly developing State Street when it was built, and was among a large cluster of fuel stations in the area. For its first decade, it served as a Phillips 66 gas station under various business names and operators. Then Phillips Petroleum downsized in the 1970s and the building started its long life as a car service station.
Thames Kral’s parents, Milan and Blazena Kral, defected from the USSR in 1969. On a family road trip through Boise in the mid-1970s, they saw the station and tried to buy it, and were turned away because they did not have enough money. Eventually, they moved to Boise and convinced the owners to sell it to them, and they operated German Car Service out of the building for the next 20 years.
Upon their retirement in 1997, Gary’s Oasis Auto, a Subaru dealer, leased the entire building until 2014. After that business closed, the building sat mostly empty, until Milan died in March of 2016 and Stacy and Thames Kral inherited the building. Stacy Kral said he longed to see the space transformed into something new for his three grandsons to inherit, instead of sold off to be possibly demolished.
“Even on his deathbed he said, ‘It will be an office for (his grandchildren) someday,’” she said. “He really was a visionary.”
The Krals have partnered with Design Vim to complete the renovation. The firm, which designs residential and commercial spaces, will be the sole tenant of the space.
The building’s original garage doors will stay, walnut paneling will be reinstalled, and the lobby will be brought back to life.
Hailie Thomas, one of the co-owners of Design Vim alongside Katy Hoxsey, said their business has been without an office for six years, but once they found the Kral’s building it was the right direction.
“We have looked around at other potential spaces for an office, but they never felt right,” Thomas said. “This one luckily happened very organically, and it definitely fits with our more edgy interior design style. And it’s an iconic piece of Boise history.”
For about a year, the Krals have been working with architectural historian Kerry Davis to put the building on the National Register of Historic Places. The application has been submitted, and the building will be reviewed in September, with the hopes of being on the register by early next year.
Although being on the national register is not an ironclad way to protect the building from change, Stacy Kral said it will make it easier to advocate for the building’s future. Currently the very tip of the building’s distinctive canopy is on the edge of State Street, which is in the process of a massive, multiyear widening project.
Nicole Du Bois, spokeswoman for the Ada County Highway District, said this particular stretch of State Street is tentatively part of the plan to widen the road, but only if certain thresholds of traffic and Valley Regional Transit ridership are met. The plan to widen this section of the road is not currently funded, and would occur likely a decade or more in the future.
HISTORIC TAX CREDIT
Registering the building makes the project eligible for federal historic rehabilitation tax credits, which help pay for the restoration of historic buildings that are income producing. Davis said this program is underutilized in Idaho because there is not a corresponding state historic tax credit, and developers are often scared off by the requirements of a historic renovation.
“We want people to not look at historic buildings as a burden, but more as a solid investment with financial incentives,” Davis said in a text message.
Idaho is currently one of 14 states without a state historic tax credit. In most states around the country, developers are able to layer the federal tax credit on top of the state tax credit to get a higher refund to help pay for the project.
Dan Everhart, an outreach historian with the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office, said the concept of preserving a gas station as a historic place is new. Even though most of the buildings on the register are decorative homes, government buildings, bank buildings and other more ornate structures, he said the idea of preserving a slice of 1960s life is just as important.
“With this property and maybe with others ... we’re starting to break that mold of places that are typically considered historically important,” Everhart said. “Our American story and the architecture that helps us tell that story is not limited to what happened in this country before 1900 or before 1940 or before 1980.”