This Gainesville gastropub was once a hub for oil changes and gasoline

·6 min read

Aug. 4—Before it became a filling station for bites and brews, downtown Gainesville's newest gastropub was a hub for oil changes and gasoline.

Opened in June at 400 Jesse Jewell Parkway, the walls of Standard Service are adorned with photographs and memorabilia circa 1970s, a tributary nod to its predecessor, Harold Latimer Texaco Service Station.

Harold Latimer owned and operated the service station from 1969-1973.

There was no Jesse Jewell Parkway back in those days, according to Harold's son, Jack Latimer. Folks found the service station using the address 400 Broad St., or by recognizable landmarks: Bay Way Laundry next door near the spot where IHOP sits today or, across the street, "another little bitty station," a lumber company and dirt alley now occupied by Wild Wing Cafe and M&M, a "real popular restaurant, especially with all the church people on Sunday."

"We used to walk across the street and get plates of food. It was just right there," Jack said.

As an adolescent, Jack often pumped gas and washed cars at the station, which was managed by his elder brother-in-law, Ronald Wilson.

Not having a driver's license at the time, Jack would commute after school and on Saturdays by way of a Schwinn Sting-Ray.

"It looked like a little chopper. I'd ride my bicycle from over close to Gainesville High to that station. Back then, it was OK. They built McDonald's (around 1969 or 1970) right up there where it is now, and my brother-in-law — I bet I spent a million dollars of his money going up there and getting us some Big Macs. It might be about two or three times a day I'd go up there and get us something to eat. We didn't get tired of it. Then I'd come back and might help wash a car."

Opened, to Jack's estimate, sometime in the 1940s, Harold bought the service station from Ray West in 1969.

In the early 2000s, the building housed Troy Millikan's law office and the facade was bricked over. Millikan's office relocated to Green Street in 2019, and the building sat vacant until it was bought by Standard Service.

Some relics of the past withstood the test of time, like a window with the number 400 above the station's entryway that, found under the flooring during renovations, is part of Standard Service's interior design.

"History is important (to) a building. ... You go into some of these other little Georgia towns, like Milledgeville and some of these other towns that are more into the history, they don't tear down; they restore. And that's what Gainesville is just kind of starting to do. It's a miracle they didn't just bulldoze (the station)."

Jack had a chance to tour his boyhood haunt while it was under construction to become Standard Service — a nostalgic trip down memory lane that edged toward emotional.

"When I first pulled up and got out of my truck, it was weird — I hadn't been there since I was 16 years old. It nearly made me feel like crying, because everything was different — the street, the buildings. Nothing was like it used to be. There used to be railroad tracks right there. I was seeing all that in my mind how it used to be, and then how it looks now. It looks like you went to Mars and stayed 50 years and then came back. Nothing's like it was."

Inside, whispers of the station's past life still clung to the walls.

"When I went in, I said, 'Wow, we used to sit right here, and this right over here was my dad's office. Back here was the tire changing room.' It was divided for the lube and greasing area and changing oil, and then on over here at the end was the wash area. I said, 'Man, I haven't been in here, right in this spot, since I was helping wash cars.'"

Decades later, Jack's first dining experience in the renovated station — which, he said, was nothing short of "killer" — was in that very spot.

"I was sitting there eating and kind of started laughing to myself, 'cause I thought, 'Who would ever dream in 1971 that you'd be sitting right here in 2022, and you'd be eating in a killer restaurant?"

The Latimer dynasty started with Jack's grandfather, John, who opened the family's service station and grocery store on Athens Street in 1934.

Many longtime residents associate the Latimer name with Texaco, but when John first got into business, his gasoline was Gulf — that is, until he tore that station down and built the Athens Street flagship Texaco directly across the thoroughfare in 1947, according to Jack.

"This was before Walmart, when a mom-and-pop store was important. There (were) about four generations of people that had traded with Latimer's on Athens Street. It was like 90% credit — you could come in there and just charge (the items to your account) 'cause we knew you and everything. There were people that charged their whole month of groceries and then paid for it at the end of the month, all my life and before."

Like charging a tab at the local grocer, several pieces of the economic landscape have changed over the years, including the cost of electricity. One of the first Georgia Power bills Jack found for the station came out to a whopping $9.

The Latimer family has lived in and around Talmo, tucked between Jefferson and Gainesville in Jackson County, since the 1800s, according to Jack.

Raised on a farm, John and his brothers joined the Army when World War I began. John was sent to France to work with the world's first mechanized ambulance corp, according to Jack.

"He had to learn how to tear his engine down and fix it in the dark. If you were out on the front picking up (wounded soldiers) and something was torn up, you had to fix it."

After about a year or two, John returned home and to farming — that is, until the boll weevil hit, Jack said, and then, in 1929, the Depression.

"Everybody was losing everything. They moved to town and my grandfather had another ace up his sleeve. He was a mechanic that you couldn't believe. He had a lot of friends and he acquired that gas station — it was a garage and gas station. And from 1934 all the way up till he died in 1969, he was a top-notch mechanic on cars and motorcycles. Thank goodness he had that to fall back on."