The site of the Wright Brothers’ first bike shop could be saved

A version of this article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of BRAIN. Subscribe to the magazine.

By Amelia Arvesen

DAYTON, Ohio (BRAIN) — When Matthew Tepper enters Dayton’s historic West Third Street neighborhood, he looks for a two-story brick building as a landmark. If it is torn down, he says, its absence would completely alter the cornerstone and historic context of the neighborhood.

“It adds to the character of the neighborhood,” said Tepper, president of the nonprofit, volunteer-run Bicycles For All and trustee of Preservation Dayton, Inc. “To deliberately let something go and tear it down should always be a big decision. .”

The building at 1005 West Third Street is of historic significance to cycling, as brothers Wilber and Orville Wright ran their first bicycle shop on the site for six months in 1892. According to the Dayton Aviation Heritage Historical Park, however, ” Little, if any, of the occupied structure (the bike shop) still exists.

However, other historians say that the current building, called the Gem City Ice Cream Building, was built around the building that housed the store. The building remains a stop on a historic walking tour of the neighborhood and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. It is also one of Preservations Dayton’s “Ten Most Endangered Properties” in the city.

In November, the Dayton Zoning Appeal Board approved the city’s request to demolish the building. But on Jan. 13, the city said it issued a request for proposal, or RFQ, to attract a developer to rehabilitate the building or tear it down for new construction. Veronica Morris, the site’s project manager, said the city has owned the property since 2005 and it has been in poor condition since 1993. Plywood covers the windows. Caution tape lines the perimeter.

“The city wants to encourage historic preservation,” Morris said. “However, as guardians of the public trust, we need to ensure that our residents can walk the streets and don’t have to deal with harmful properties, and that we can bring some kind of civic and community pride. to our neighborhoods.”

Much of Wright Brothers history is preserved locally by the Wright Family Foundation, the Wright Brothers National Museum, and the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, which is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

Historic Park Superintendent Kendell Thompson, in a letter to the city’s historic commission, said the site was upgraded in 1917, around the time it became the Gem City Ice Cream Building. Regardless, Thompson said it “would always have been a familiar part of the landscape in which Orville and Wilbur Wright continued to live and commute to work in the West 3rd Street neighborhood for the next five decades. respectively”.

Thompson, along with Monica Snow, president of Preservation Dayton, Inc., calls for the facade to be saved in any future developer proposals. Snow added that the building could also qualify for tax credits, a major financial incentive for creative and successful developers. The city should select a project from the calls for tenders submitted at the end of February.

“The whole idea of ​​having a national historic park is to tell the whole story of the culture, economy and heritage of the people who lived there,” Snow said.

For Chris Tegtmeyer, general manager of the Kettering Bike Shop in Dayton, the building as it stands is an eyesore as he passes by, and he worries about the bricks falling from above.

“I’m all for getting rid of a lot of these dilapidated buildings, especially if it’s a danger to the citizens, to try to clean up the land and possibly create access for new developments,” a- he declared. But, he added, he might feel differently if he knew more about the building’s history.

Dayton, rich in Wright-era history, is home to other notable buildings that have been fiercely protected by locals. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park manages five structures in the West Third Street Historic District, including the Setzer Building owned by Aviation Trail Inc. Morris said the Setzer is the best example of a building that has been modernized, but with the historic facade kept intact. at the request of the curators.

The park also includes the Wright Cycle Company Building, a Victorian commercial store built in 1886 at 22 South Williams Street. This is where the brothers operated their businesses printing, selling, repairing and manufacturing bicycles from 1895 to 1897. And drawing on their mechanical skills, this is also where they began their aeronautical experiences.

This property and 1005 West Third Street are the last two remaining buildings in Dayton linked to the brothers’ bicycle business, according to Preservation Dayton.