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In any city, it makes sense for businesses to line up neatly and adhere to a standard look. One, two, three. A, B, C. Brick, mortar, brick.
But what grabs interest are deviations from the norm: off-center architecture, a tiny building, a door that leads nowhere or a sky-high Chevy as an advertising sign. These one-of-a-kind elements give character to a city, a treat to the eye and a surprise pop to the landscape.
So here we give a nod to unconventionality by highlighting four of Springfield’s singular structures. Take a look and savor the charm in the uncommon.
3010 S. Sixth St.
The whimsical shape makes the building look like a prop in a Tim Burton movie — mythical real estate that might be home to dancing skeletons or Pee Wee Herman. But there it is near the decidedly real Stevenson Drive turn lane, a structure that accommodates a busy retailer selling nothing more fanciful than glazed doughnuts and Long Johns.
“It’s a very funky building,” said Kelly Grant Jr., Mel-O-Cream president. “The building goes from 40 foot wide to 10 foot. The roofline slopes downhill and slopes down in size.”
The property is owned by Jeff Stauffer, president of Mid-America Advertising and O-Donuts Inc., parent company of Mel-O-Cream. He acquired it in 2001 because he was interested in putting a billboard on the site.
“The building happened to be part of the package,” said Stauffer, who later bought the doughnut company as well. Only The Spirit Shop, a liquor store, had occupied the building previously.
“It’s unique. From a real estate perspective, I would describe it as maximum use of attractive ground. It uses every square foot of the property,” said Stauffer about the 2,300-square-foot building on a triangular lot.
He said the building, which sports yellow and brown horizontal stripes on the exterior, works well as a retail shop.
“The visibility is exceptional. And it helps that we have a drive-through.”
Dukett’s Barber Shop
2659 S. 11th St.
It’s a tiny, two-man business, just 30-by-10-feet inside. Two brown leather barber chairs take up half the space and the rest is a carpeted waiting room with Cubs and Bears pennants and posters on the walls. It’s the place where owner Deon Dukett, 37, and his brother, Delon Dukett, 34, spend their days, trimming, cutting and straight-razoring the heads of their decidedly male clientele.
“All haircuts $9. Mullet removals free” is the business’ slogan.
“The wives drag them in,” said Deon Dukett. “It’s time,” he says about the shaggy-haired customers forced to undergo involuntary mulletectomies.
In the 1930s, when 11th Street was a two-lane dirt road, the northwest corner of the Stanford intersection was the site of a gas station. That later gave way to a beauty shop, then a barbershop. Deon Dukett, a graduate of Peoria Barber College, took over the building in 1999, making the most of the small space.
The shop has a working 1948 National cash register — no hi-falutin digital technology here — which only registers purchases up to $5. There’s free bubble gum and suckers for the youngsters.
Dukett’s career choice was influenced by his great-grandfather Jesse Dukett and his great-uncle Lloyd Dukett. They used to operate a business, also named Dukett’s Barber Shop, in their home at Monroe and Illinois streets.
“It was a candy store/barbershop. The business was in the front of the house. They sold candy to kids for a penny,” said the great-grandson.
Like his ancestors, Deon Dukett offers moustache and beard trims, haircuts and hot-lather neck shaves with a straight razor.
“We’re just an old-fashioned barber shop.”
214 N. Walnut St.
If you’re waiting in your car for your broccoli beef at the pickup window at Mr. Eggroll, you might wonder why you’re facing a red door situated a half-story off the ground with no stairs underneath.
Wonder no more.
The door off the alley between Ace Hardware and Mr. Eggroll is not meant for pedestrians.
“Behind door No. 3 is storage. It allows us to get items in and out of the building. We bring a forklift to the door and take things out that way,” said George W. Preckwinkle, one of owners of the hardware store. “We used to have a computer room upstairs and that’s how they got the computers in there.”
Except for the brick façade out front, the building’s exterior is white with red trim. All of the doors are red, even the one that leads nowhere.
Built in 1955, the building was called Bishop Hardware when George T. Preckwinkle bought into the business run by Bob Bishop. It was 5,000 square feet back then, but has since undergone a series of enlargements.
“There’s been at least four additions,” said the younger Preckwinkle, George T’s son. “That’s how you get nooks and crannies.”
Patriot Auto Sales
2412 Clear Lake Ave.
Although it doesn’t have an official title, locals have nicknamed the 1955 two-door Bel Air hardtop perched atop a three-story pole at Patriot Auto Sales the Chevy-on-a-stick.
“When there are car shows in town, we get a lot of looky-loos who ask if it’s for sale,” said Paul LeJeune, owner of the business. “A lot of people dream about putting it back together. But it has no motor, no transmission, no dashboard, no seats.”
The auto was hoisted in 1991, when the business was Young Motors Ltd., owned by Jerry Young and George Stelle.
“Jerry wanted a sign. At that time, I was doing a restoration of a ’57 car and somehow the idea came to put a car in the air,” said Stelle, now a Springfield real estate developer. After calling auto dealers “from California to Missouri” looking for a two-door hardtop, Stelle found the perfect blue-and-white model just three blocks away, stored in a flatbed trailer.
“I bought it for $900 and started buying parts for it,” said Stelle, who spent four months transforming the old car into the showpiece it is today.
The two owners checked for any zoning prohibitions and then consulted local engineering firm Coombe Bloxdorf. A 6-by-6-foot hole was dug in the ground, and steel was laid to steady the 11-inch-wide “I” beam set vertically in the hole. Steel rails were placed on top of the beam and the rails were clamped to the frame of the car.
“It’s amazing that it never teetered. It’s gone through 70 mile per hour winds,” Stelle said. “It really put Young Motors on the mark. Everyone remarked about it.”
Since going skyward, the Chevy has been taken down twice. Young and Stelle took it down for rust removal, and LeJeune lowered it for repainting.
“I wanted it to be fire-engine red and white, that’s what I requested, but the body shop painted it road-closed orange. It was horrific,” LeJeune recalled. The Bel Air was repainted blue and white and returned to the stratosphere.
For anyone driving on Clear Lake Avenue, the Chevy-on-a-stick is hard to miss.
“It’s a landmark,” said LeJeune. “Nobody in the whole area wouldn’t recognize it.”
State Journal Register
Kathryn Rem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.