Wright Brothers’ First Shop Scheduled for Demolition

Building used by the siblings as a bike shop in Dayton, Ohio, to be torn down in 2022.

The Wright Brothers had several bike shop locations. The one in question was their first. Credit: NASA

A building in Dayton, Ohio, that once housed the Wright brothers’ first bicycle shop is slated for demolition. 

According to officials from the city of Dayton, in 1892, the Wrights occupied space in the building located at 1005 West Third St. 

“It is believed that this was their first shop, however, they spent less than a year in the space. Apparently, they occupied several different buildings in their early years,” said Todd Kinskey, the director of the Department of Planning, Neighborhoods and Development in Dayton.

The Building’s History

“The Wright Brothers, if they could magically come back to life, would not recognize the building.”

Todd Kinskey, director of the Department of Planning, Neighborhoods and Development in Dayton, Ohio

Today, what is left of the brick building is boarded up. It has been empty and falling apart for many years. According to a timeline compiled by the city’s Landmark Commission, the building was constructed in 1892. In 1902, the Gem City Ice Cream company acquired the building.

Multiple renovations followed including the addition of a second story. Today, the building is often referred to as the Gem City Ice Cream building in honor of that historic landmark, not for its even more famous early denizens.

“The Wright Brothers, if they could magically come back to life, would not recognize the building,” Kinskey said. “The entire façade of the original building was removed in 1914 when an addition was added to the building. In addition to having a new façade, the original building is surrounded on two sides by a reinforced concrete/warehouse style building that was used for many decades for the manufacturing of ice cream.”

In 1975, the ice cream company sold the building to a utility company. In 1995, the utility company closed and moved out of the building. In 1998, the property was acquired by the city of Dayton. Over the next 20 years, several unsuccessful attempts were made to raise the funds to restore the building. It was declared a nuisance in 2008, and in 2012, the city started the process to remove the building. 

One Last Gasp

The Landmarks Commission denied the proposed demolition of the structure because the commission wanted the city to preserve the facade of the building. The city appealed the denial to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Wilbur Wright working in the bicycle shop. Credit: Library of Congress

Monica Snow, president of the nonprofit Preservation Dayton Inc., wrote two letters in which she noted that the Landmarks Commission had followed protocol for the protection of the building, therefore the denial of the demolition should stand.

The board of zoning appeals voted 5 to 1 to reverse the denial, allowing the building to be removed.

The building is boarded up, but there is lots of foot traffic in the area, and there are reports of bricks falling from the structure.

“The front façade is separating from the rest of the building and there is structural collapse occurring with the roof and floors of the structure,” Kinskey said. “Additionally, the reinforced concrete portions of the building were constructed prior to modern construction requirements and our engineer fears that removal of any portion of the building could cause the building to fold in like a deck of cards.”

Kinskey notes that the city has submitted a mediation plan that would salvage some of the building components, and that there is already a sign at the site indicating the Wright brothers’ history at the location.

A proposal for the demolition will be issued and the building razed in the next two to four months.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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