Dayton wants to tear down historic ice cream building, Wright bros’ first bicycle shop

The Gem City Ice Cream Co. building, the site of the Wright brothers' first bike shop, at 1005 W. Third St. The city of Dayton wants to demolish the property, which officials say is a nuisance. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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The Gem City Ice Cream Co. building, the site of the Wright brothers' first bike shop, at 1005 W. Third St. The city of Dayton wants to demolish the property, which officials say is a nuisance. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Structure has become a nuisance, and years of efforts to redevelop property have failed, city staff said.

The city of Dayton wants to demolish the historic Gem City Ice Cream Co. building in West Dayton that was the site of the Wright brothers’ first bicycle shop.

The vacant two-story commercial structure on the 1000 block of West Third St. has fallen into a state of “extreme disrepair” and is a major nuisance and years of efforts to redevelop the property failed, city staff said.

The Gem City Ice Cream Co. building, the site of the Wright brothers' first bike shop, at 1005 W. Third St. The city of Dayton wants to demolish the property, which officials say is a nuisance. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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The Gem City Ice Cream Co. building, the site of the Wright brothers' first bike shop, at 1005 W. Third St. The city of Dayton wants to demolish the property, which officials say is a nuisance. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The city is seeking a major certificate of appropriateness from the Dayton Landmarks Commission to remove the structure, and the commission will consider the city’s request this week.

“The loss of this building is unfortunate but at this point has become inevitable,” says a Landmark Commission staff report.

In 1892, a wood building was constructed at 1005 W. Third St. that served as the Wright brothers’ first bike shop, according to the report.

A decade later, the Gem City Ice Cream Co. acquired the property and moved in.

A map showing the Gem City Ice Cream building in Wright Dunbar. CONTRIBUTED
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A map showing the Gem City Ice Cream building in Wright Dunbar. CONTRIBUTED

The ice cream company later added onto the structure, constructing a second story and large bay windows.

The ice cream company closed in 1975, and H&H Utility Co. purchased the property, the report states.

The utility company closed and moved out of the building in 1995, and the city purchased it a few years later.

The city transferred the building to a potential developer in 2000, but the property was returned after the development team concluded it had too much structural damage.

Historical and modern photographs of the Gem City Ice Cream Co. building. CONTRIBUTED
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Historical and modern photographs of the Gem City Ice Cream Co. building. CONTRIBUTED

The city said the building was declared a nuisance more than a dozen years ago and staff were unable to find a developer with the funds to rehab the property.

Nearly a decade ago, the city began the process to seek approval to bulldoze the property but called it off after hearing concerns from the community and the state historic preservation office, the commission report says.

The 1005 W. Third St. property was the first of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s bike stores.

The back portion of the Gem City Ice Cream Co. building on the 1000 block of the West Third Street. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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The back portion of the Gem City Ice Cream Co. building on the 1000 block of the West Third Street. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The Wrights’ second and third bike shops were torn down, but the fourth one remains as a national historic site at West Third and Williams streets in the Wright Dunbar District.

The fifth bike store was restored and moved to Michigan by Henry Ford.

The ice cream company building has issues with water intrusion and accumulation, failing foundation, separated brick walls, deteriorating concrete beams and columns and walls in danger of collapse, according to inspections cited in the landmark commission report.

The interior of the Gem City Ice Cream Co. building. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
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The interior of the Gem City Ice Cream Co. building. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

A 2007 inspection concluded the property could cost $2.8 million or more to bring into a “development ready” state and partial demolition wasn’t viable because removing one section could result in the entire structure collapsing.

Another inspection in 2019 concluded that the building cannot be salvaged, and city staff, including nuisance abatement specialists, say the building needs to be removed, the report states.

The city says while there has been no interest from developers to rehab the building, they have expressed an interest in the site and part of the city’s mediation plan calls for salvaging materials like bricks, decorative tile and a Gem City Ice Cream sign.

If the city issues a request for proposals to redevelop the site, it will require the reuse of all or some of these materials.

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