For Stacey and Jarrod Jones, one of the best parts of restoring the old 1930s gas station at 13th and Main streets into their combined husband-and-wife dentist and eye-doctor offices has been the stories they hear.
“It’s really nostalgic to people when they come in,” said Stacey, who is the optometrist at eyeSMILE Vision and Dental. “They have a sense of pride to know this building has been restored.”
It means more to some of their patients in certain eras, people who grew up in Hays, who are about in their 70s now, said Stacey.
“Some of them had paper routes and the paper was close by, I understand, and they would stop by here after school to play a game of pinball and get a Coke before they’d go on their paper route,” she said. “So we hear those stories a lot.”
Before the couple bought the property more than a year ago and opened it in January, the 90-year-old building had been used partly as an apartment, and partly as storage for All Seasons Plumbing, Heating & AC, the building’s owner.
The renovation in 2018 by Commercial Builders, 2717 Canal Blvd., brought out the old and added some new.
Built in 1930, the mission-style building was originally Nep’s Super Service Station, a gas station owned by Jep Jacobs, whose father was Hays builder Tony Jacobs. It later became Jep’s Service B.F. Goodrich, as well as Rome Home Appliances retail store, and a Shell gasoline station.
“There are other people who remember coming here every Saturday with their parents to get their gas and get their windshields washed,” Stacey said. “And then you have a later era where this was the only place on Main Street that had a big clock on the outside, so when people would drag Main they would always drive by here to know what time it was to know when they had to go home.”
The building was in pretty rough shape inside when they got it, said Jarrod, the dentist at eyeSMILE.
The couple hired Commercial Builders for the renovation and quickly discovered any construction had to be done in accordance with the many rules and regulations governing historic sites.
The building is registered as a contributing building to downtown’s signature Chestnut Street Historic District, which is on the national and state registers of historic places, said Brett Ottley, design-build manager for Commercial Builders.
Ottley was instrumental in helping the Joneses manage the construction through the rules and regulations governing historic sites, which are set by the National Park Service. In Kansas, those are enforced by the Kansas Historical Society.
The Chestnut Street Historic District was built between 1874 and 1964 and includes blocks on Main Street between 7th and 12th streets, west 9th, west 10th and west 11th streets, and some of 12th Street.
While not designated in 2008 as part of the original Chestnut Historic District, Jep’s was added in May 2011 at a previous owner’s request.
A National Parks Service document about the historic Ellis Congregational Church described the builder, Tony Jacobs, as a stonemason and identified him as being born near Hays in 1881. It said he worked at the turn of the century mixing cement for Wise construction company and was one of the stonemasons on the Ellis church.
“Over the years Tony gained a reputation of being one of the finest builders in Hays,” the document states, noting he built the six-story Lamer Hotel, 1200 Main St., the former Haffemeier building at 115-117 E. 11th, and several private homes.
His crowning achievement, the document said, was the former Saint Joseph’s Military Academy building, at 1701 Hall St., now the private Catholic high school Thomas More Prep-Marian.
Jep’s historic designation meant the exterior and interior had to remain true to the original in many ways, said Ottley, so the building still looks like a gas station.
Browsing old photos at the Hays Public Library, the Joneses wanted the exterior done with the 1930s look, but the historical society dictated it be the 1950s version of the building. The furnishings, colors and design inside carry that theme.
Original walls couldn’t be torn down, but holes could be punched for doors, windows and hallway entrances.
One of the most obvious remnants of the old building with its high ceilings is a long red-brick wall in the patient lounge, which at one time was the exterior of the building. Covered by plaster, it was uncovered during sandblasting.
“All of a sudden this red brick wall was there, and it was beautiful,” Ottley recalls.
The Joneses could have painted or plastered back over the wall.
“When they sandblasted it, we saw the way it looked and we were like ‘OK, that’s gotta stay like that,’ ” Jarrod said.
An original terrazzo floor in the reception area also still remains, as do two garage doors on the front that were part of the station’s garage bays.
“We tried to meld both old and new together so it presented nicely,” Ottley said.
Other surprises included two fireplaces that were discovered, one of which they were able to keep.
For its part, Commercial Builders has had a lot of practice guiding owners through renovations, having worked on other buildings in the Chestnut District.
“People had projects they wanted us to do, and there are all these rules and regulations to follow,” Ottley said. “So it was a service we grew into because it’s tough for people to navigate through.”
They learn something new every time, he said.
“It was an exciting project, it was fun to do,” Ottley said. “Jarrod and Stacey are just about the nicest people you could meet.”
Looking back at the process and its challenges, Stacey admits, “There were times we wondered if we’d made the right decision.”
But the regret was short-lived.
“It ended up costing us about what it would have cost to build new,” said Jarrod, “but your new building wouldn’t have the character that this one has, and that’s why we liked it. We like to invest in the community, you gotta give back to the community.”
Jarrod grew up in La Crosse and Stacey grew up in Lenora, and downtown suits them perfectly, they said. Recently they participated in the Hays Arts Council's Summer Art Walk, hosting artists' works and opening the offices to strollers for the event.
“Growing up in small towns,” Jarrod said, “that’s what it feels like down here.”