In the 1920's, the little 2-lane street in front of Tiger Lily was the major "highway" from New York to Miami, and Charleston was a major stopover. Economy Oil built a large gas station on the corner of Ashley and Spring to service the travelers. With 6,000 square feet, 6 gas pumps and 5 service bays, it was well equipped to handle the flat tires, blown hoses and broken belts of those early automobiles. Many old-timers tell stories of sitting on the curb of our building, eating an ice cream cone and waiting for their car to get fixed.
Once the crosstown expressway was built in the early 1960's, traffic was diverted 2 blocks north and the service station closed. For the next 40 years, the building was either abandoned or under utilized, and the rest of the neighborhood slipped a little too. Still, the building had a lot of character and was a favorite among preservationists. A lot of people looked at 131 Spring and thought "Someone ought to do something with that building", including me and Clara.
Then one day as I was making a flower delivery, I stopped at the traffic light in front of the empty building. There was a For Sale sign on it, along with a "REDUCED" tag. We were nearing the end of our lease in our existing space, and on a whim I called the number. The next day Clara and I walked
the building. Among the trash, broken windows and graffiti, it was easy to see the diamond in the rough. We made an offer and they accepted. We weren't prepared for the heated discussions that took place among the Architectual Review Board and the preservationists, but with modifications to our plan, (and a little help from Mayor Riley), the project was approved. The build-out wasn't easy, we were short on money and short on time. I still remember my buddy Jim Braun and I painting the interior at 10pm with only flashlights to see by as the power wasn't turned on yet. The next morning we saw why people should never paint by flashlight! The night before Valentine's Day, the window crew worked through the night so we could open on our biggest day of the year. Somehow, it all happened. We won several architectual awards for the renovation, and it was featured in newspapers and magazines. The best feedback was from our new neighbors, thanking us for investing in a great building and a wonderful neighborhood. Now the Elliotborough/Cannonboro neighborhoods are hotspots for redevelopment in Charleston.
We're lucky to have such an extraordinary building, and we know it. It's funny how the building was originally a "service station", and great service is a cornerstone of what we do at Tiger Lily Way.