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Lexington restaurant owner uncovers Lexington history in new location

Submitted Photo: A Gulf gas station in Lexington from the 1940s.
Submitted Photo: A Gulf gas station in Lexington from the 1940s.(WKYT)
Published: Sep. 26, 2019 at 6:31 PM EDT
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Sometimes finding history is as simple as taking a hammer to drywall and discovering it covers something that is many decades old.

That's exactly what happened to the owner of Sav's Grill. Mamadou Savane came to this country in the 1990s from Guinea in West Africa. He married an American Peace Corps volunteer and made the US his new home. One of his dreams was to open a restaurant which he did in Lexington on South Limestone. This year, he decided to move Sav's Grill to the old Subway location on East Main Street at Old Lafayette Avenue. "We come in, and decide, okay, we're going to tear down this wall," Savane said.

He soon realized the walls of the old Subway restaurant hid a business that started there almost 80 years ago.

"We saw this brick. We saw this curved glass, and we went on the other side also and tear that down, and we realize, oh my gosh, this was the entrance, garage entrance of the old building," Savane said.

He uncovered the original frame entrance to two garage bays of a Gulf gas station built in 1940. Behind more drywall, they found a wall with bricked-in windows. The original front door to the gas station was hidden by drywall, and on each side, a column of glass blocks were still there after 80 years. And they uncovered the original curved windows along the side of the gas station.

"This is part of the city, the history of the city," Savane said.

He's keeping as much of the old gas station as possible in his new restaurant. It made us wonder what the intersection at East Main Street and Walton Avenue looked like 80 years ago. Remember, the city then had about 50,000 people, and we wanted to find a picture of the gas station that sat here all those years ago.

"This is the kind of stuff I dig for all the time," Lexington historian Peter Bourne said.

Bourne created a Facebook group called "You know Lexington, KY history if..." where pictures and information are shared. In 1941, East Main Street at Walton was home to the first Henry Clay High School, which today is the school board's central office. There were a half dozen gas stations in the area, including the Gulf station. In 1941, next door was a market and barbershop with street parking. Today an A & W restaurant occupies that space.

What Mamadou Savane really wanted to find (and so did I as a reporter) was a picture of the gas station that once stood where his restaurant is now going.

It didn't long to find a picture from 1941. With the help of Peter Bourne and the Facebook group, we found a man who once delivered gas to Gulf stations throughout the state. It included the one on East Main Street which apparently stayed open until the early 1970s. The gas tanker driver has kept many of the Gulf employee magazines through the decades, and that's where he found the picture from 1941 attached to this story. That picture shows the two garage doors in the same place where Savane found the metal frame covered by the drywall.

"I want to put the original picture in the back of the menu...that's my plan," Savane said.

Bourne said he loved the idea of preserving Lexington history.

Sav's Grill is expected to open in early October.

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