Friday, November 15, 2013

TOP STORY >> Sherwood Roundtop museum unlikely

Leader staff writer

The project manager and two Arkansas Historic Preservation Program officials visited the 1936 Roundtop filling station recently to discuss the $75,000 effort to restore the Sherwood landmark.

The project is being funded by a 2-for-1 matching grant through the preservation program, which is under the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Sherwood’s match is $25,000.

Project manager Philip Quandt told the preservation program officials, Brian Driscoll and Joia Burton, that structural problems abound because termites have infested the building.

His tentative plans also contradict the previously announced vision of turning the main room of the station into a museum and putting the planned police substation in the storage room.

There is now a sign on the building announcing that it is the future home of the Sherwood Police Department’s Southside Substation.

The Roundtop will be used as a substation because one grant requirement is that there must be a designated purpose for the restored building.

Quandt explained that the back room at the end of the building where plumbing is installed should become an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restroom.

The master plan was turn-ed in by the deadline, which was Friday. Preservation program officials have 30 days to approve it.

Darrell Brown, chairman of the city’s History and Heritage Committee and the driving force behind the project, wanted the main room to make visitors feel as though they were stepping back into a 1940s and ‘50s gas station with a cash register, old-timey Coke machine, oil pans and other automobile maintenance-related items.

Planned exhibits included information about the landmark’s former owner, Happy Williford; photos of celebrities and politicians who visited there; and a display on the movie that was filmed at the station in 2010.

Sinclair Oil has agreed to donate signage and gas pumps for the landmark’s exterior.

Brown previously said that is only fair since the Roundtop was a Sinclair station for the majority of its existence.

Also in his long-term vision is Sherwood closing one of two short roads that run along both sides of the Roundtop and buying the property across that road. Then the area could become a city park, Brown said.

The chairman said that he still hopes displays can be put up inside the building, which must be open to the public at least four times a year.

But Brown noted that he would like to open it more often and by appointment if school groups or others would like to schedule tours.

Burton suggested interpretive panels be placed outside the building, and Brown agreed that was a good idea, especially when the Roundtop isn’t open to the public.

The structural problems — replastering, heating and air, the electrical system — will be dealt with in phase one of construction. Phase one could be completed in February or March, Brown said previously.

“It’s going great. I just couldn’t be happier with the progress. Everybody involved has been great,” he said.

Phase two is landscaping and repaving the area around the building at the intersection of Trammel and Roundtop roads.

The city has a one-year deadline of June 14, 2014 to complete renovations because of the grant.

After the master plan is approved, Sherwood can advertise for a general contractor. Finding a contractor could take two or three weeks, Brown said previously.

The short version of the Roundtop’s history is that W.D. “Happy” Williford operated the station for 36 years, from 1936 until 1972.

Real estate tycoon Justin Matthews built the Roundtop for the Pierce Oil Company after the federal government broke up the Standard Oil Company in 1911.

The landmark later became a Phillips 66, a Sinclair gas station and a DX station. It had three pumps.

Williford bought the Roundtop in 1957 and sold it in 1999 to George Brown. Darrell Brown and George Brown are not related.

When George Brown passed away, his heirs gave the building to Sherwood.

Roundtop Road was once Hwy. 67, the main thoroughfare from Bald Knob and Searcy to Little Rock and North Little Rock. People from St. Louis also drove it.

The station was the only place that had public bathrooms between Searcy and Little Rock.

Two former governors campaigned there. Celebrities like Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash visited the station.

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

The Roundtop was featured in “The Last Ride,” a 2010 film about Hank Williams Sr. that was directed by Arkansas native Harry Thomasson.

And, in May, the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas named it one of the state’s most endangered historic places.