The Gardenside Plaza bus shelter, with its 30-foot brick tower and sea-green neon letters, has been an Alexandria Drive landmark since 1959 — a bit of Miami Beach in Bluegrass suburbia.
In recent years, the mid-century modern shelter has looked pretty sad: burned-out letters, cracked concrete, dingy brick. But over the next few months, it will get a $41,700 makeover in one of Lexington's most unusual historic preservation efforts.
The stainless steel letters spelling "Gardenside Plaza" were sent off for repair over the winter. They will soon be reinstalled with their neon lighting replaced by energy-efficient LEDs.
The white brick tower and its stainless steel crown will be cleaned and rewired. The concrete bench will be repaired and its angled roof patched and painted.
And there will be a new element: a period-appropriate ceramic mosaic mural on the back wall designed by Guy Kemper, a renowned local glass artist.
"I'm really excited about the partnerships that have come together for this," said Yvette Hurt, founder of Art in Motion, a non-profit organization that since 2008 has worked with partners to build five Lextran bus shelters that are functional works of public art.
This is shaping up to be Art in Motion's biggest year, with construction of three new shelters on Southland Drive, Leestown Road and Georgetown Street.
The Gardenside Neighborhood Association and Urban County Council member Peggy Henson approached Art in Motion about the Gardenside Plaza shelter in 2011.
Money for the restoration came from city "corridors" funding, Lextran, Gardenside Plaza owner Pierson-Trapp Co. and the philanthropic group Lexington Directions.
Art in Motion also is working with historian Karen Hudson at the University of Kentucky to compile an oral history of the shopping center and shelter. If you have memories to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Something built in the 1950s may not seem "historic" to many people. But high-quality mid-century modern architecture has gained a big following in recent years.
Architects say that, in many ways, it was the first American architectural style that took its inspiration from the future rather than the past.
Inspired by vacations in Miami Beach, Lexington developer David Trapp spent $8,500 in 1959 to build the sign and shelter for his shopping center. Public transportation was a big deal then.
"When the suburbs were opening up, women were basically trapped out there because most families, if they had a car, had only one," Hudson said. "Women were the ones campaigning to get bus service" to new suburbs such as Gardenside, Meadowthorpe and Southland.
Between 1956 and 1972, as automobile registration in Fayette County more than quadrupled, the private bus company lost 36 percent of its paying passengers and went out of business. It was replaced by Lextran, a public agency, in 1973.
Public transportation is getting renewed interest because it is more environmentally friendly, reduces traffic congestion and is essential to many low-wage workers.
Hurt, an environmental lawyer, started Art in Motion as a volunteer project in 2006 because Lextran needed more bus shelters, she liked public art, and studies showed that transit systems that used public art in their facilities had higher ridership.
AIM built its first shelter, Bottlestop, using Ale-8-One bottles, on Versailles Road in 2008. Then came East End Artstop on Elm Tree Lane, Bluegrass shelter on Newtown Pike and Gardenstop on Euclid Avenue. AIM also helped the Columbia Heights Neighborhood Association with BankStop on the other end of Euclid.
AIM will begin work this month on Industrial Oasis, a shelter on Southland Drive in front of Good Foods Co-op. Contributors include Good Foods and shopping center owner Sanford Levy. It was designed by architect Adam Wiseman of Pohl Rosa Pohl and features steel work by sculptor John Darko.
When it is finished, work will begin on Chimneystop on Leestown Road at Townley shopping center with help from developer Dennis Anderson. Chimneystop was designed at UK by Justin Menke, Chad Riddle, Martin Steffen and Ryan Hargrove.
Marrillia Design & Construction will build both shelters, which will cost a total of $198,600. Funding comes from federal transportation grants, Lextran and partner donations.
Also this year, AIM will build a music-theme shelter on Georgetown Street at Lima Drive. It was designed by Gary Murphy of Prajna Design & Construction. Its $37,000 cost will come from city funds.
These shelters are designed to be functional, beautiful and durable. But Hurt said she has received some criticism about their cost.
"What I would argue is that we are creating work for local designers, craftsmen and firms that supply the materials," she said. "Plus, we are creating both public art and basic amenities for public transit. It's a good investment."