What’s next in Oak Street space’s long line of entrepreneurial businesses?
By George Kramer
A 1911 map of Ashland shows an alley off Oak Street, located between two buildings just north of Main Street, at the edge of the commercial district. What we today know as Lithia Way didn’t exist (it wouldn’t until the late-1940s). On one side of the 18-foot wide alleyway was a small wood frame “office,” while on the other was a more substantial concrete building, the Paulson-Freeburg Building, which housed the telegraph office. Next to the office, The P.W. Paulson Building, with three storefronts, housed the Wells Fargo & Company express office, a printing shop and a third business.
In February 1925, Floyd and Margaret Whittle purchased the property and in the 36 feet that had held the small office (which may have burned earlier) and the alley, they built a new building. “Building” may be a bit of an overstatement: The Whittles paved the ground and put wood trusses across the space, which were supported by the two adjoining buildings. They built a simple poured concrete façade with a stepped parapet facing Oak Street and a concrete rear wall, to close off the back. The construction of the Whittle Garage was completed in early summer.
The Ashland Tidings described the building, which cost all of $6,000, as being a “one-story reinforced concrete structure, fire-resistant, with concrete floors throughout.” The Whittle’s leased the building to Sim Morris, “formerly connected with the Lithia Garage,” who planned to operate a “first-class garage and machine shop.”
Morris’ Oak Street Garage leased the building for nearly 20 years. By the late-1930s, the company found success in manufacturing welded steel tanks for storing oil, gasoline and other liquids. After World War II that activity became the company’s major focus and, as Oak Street Tank and Steel, they relocated to larger quarters, at Oak and A Streets, in the former Ashland Fruit and Produce Association Warehouse.
In August 1953, a fire broke out at a car dealership on North Main (what we know as the Orchard Lane Mall) and the Whittle Garage Building was badly damaged. The family, who still owned the building, hired E. H. Nicholson and Charles Delsman to repair it and then leased it to them, for their cabinet shop relocated from Pioneer Street. They kept the original name, Pioneer Glass & Cabinet. After Mr. Nicholson died in 1954, Charles’ brother James joined the firm. In 1977 the Delsmans purchased the building and continued their glass and cabinet shop here until 1994. Many Ashlanders, including your author, can recall buying glass from the Delsmans, and watching them effortlessly cut it on a carpet-covered worktable at the front of the shop.
In 1996, the building changed hands again, and in the iteration of uses for this simple false-front building, took a major leap forward when three brothers, Mark, Emile and Alex Amarotico, along with other friends and family, began its transformation into Standing Stone Brewing Company. The Whittle Garage was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, taking advantage of tax incentives, was completely restored and upgraded into a restaurant and brew pub, one of Ashland’s first.
Stainless steel vessels, not terribly different from the steel tanks the Morris family once made here, took over the front of the building, but the open “garage” character of the former industrial space became a design feature of the new use. Windows replaced the double garage doors (which were salvaged and remained part of the interior), the concrete floor was sealed (for health code) but showed all its blemishes, and new supports were added to the “trusses” that spanned between the adjacent buildings. Even the gantry crane, that had moved on steel I-beams below the trusses was parked in place and kept, at the rear of the dining area. For more than a quarter of a century, Standing Stone was a veritable institution in Ashland, a place where townies and tourists could enjoy great beer and food, in a fun and welcoming atmosphere.
At the end of May, faced with the challenges of the pandemic and staffing shortages, Standing Stone served its last Oak Street Amber and closed its doors for good. The building is likely to be sold and soon something else will occupy it. Floyd and Margaret Whittle would probably be surprised their little leased garage building became a beloved restaurant. Who knows what the next iteration of the Whittle Garage may be, but it will surely be interesting. Ashland, despite some periodic concerns otherwise, is always changing and usually lands on its feet, if only for the vision and diligence of its citizens.
Ashland historian George Kramer is founder of Kramer & Company, which provides historical preservation services. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 13 update: Reference to a fire at Busch Motors removed, as it’s unclear whether the fire was at that auto dealership or another.