|EVEN BEFORE Lindbergh flew the Atlantic in 1927 there was a Kekic-run service |
station in Avon Lake. This "Spirit of St. Louis" model still flies over the business,
much to the amazement of Ted Kekic's brother-in-law Peter Vivovic.
Although my daily drive to work in Cleveland on I-90 these days is an unpleasant exercise in frustration, I didn't always start my day that way. For years, during the 1980's, I enjoyed a leisurely commute to Cleveland on Lake Road (U.S. Route 6) and took in all the sights from the window of an RTA bus.
One of those sights along the way was a tiny gas station right on the highway in Avon Lake, with a small replica of the famous Spirit of St. Louis
mounted atop a pole. The gas station was a real throwback, and I used to wonder if the station had been there since Charles Lindbergh made his non-stop flight from New York to Paris in 1927.
Many years after I had stopped taking the bus in favor of driving in on I-90, I happened to take Lake Road to work once for old-time's sake. To my shock, the little gas station and the well-known airplane was gone - and there was no evidence it was ever there.
That's why I was pleased to find this article (below
) in the Lorain Journal
from Sunday, October 6, 1968. It tells the whole story of the service station, the man who ran it and the iconic plane.
Thanks to the Morning Journal for allowing me to reproduce the article and accompanying photo with caption.
50 Years of Avon Lake History Bonus Gift at Kekic's Station
By BOB COTLEUR
LONG before Lindbergh made history with "The Spirit of St. Louis" a man named Kekic bought a new one-gallon gas pump and sold the juice that made cars go.
At the same time on his ten-acre grape farm in Avon Lake's easterly end, at 31917 Lake Road, he made another kind of juice for "old time foreigners (newly arrived immigrants) that bought it to make wine."
The first Kekic was Tade, father of the man you'll find there today. The son is still selling gas, but it's the conversation that's the best bargain of dealing with Ted Kekic.
AT 62, HE remembers years ago when Lake Road ended in a ditch. "Dad drove out along Detroit Road, back in 1917, to Bradley, cut down to Walker Road, to Lear and then north to Lake." In other words, to get across the road that wasn't, you drove a big circle to the south.
When the war ended in 1918, Lake Road was completed and that's when the Kekic Gulf Station got into business.
"We had a winery, you know, but Prohibition came along and we only sold the grape juice. The low allowed private citizens to make up to three barrels each, 150 gallons that was."
"So we sold gas too. I've still got the old one-gallon Bowser pump." Ted said with a bit of pride. "We use it now to pump kerosene."
What did he pump gasolines for in 1918? Cars.
Cars that were named the Essex, the Chevy (yep), the Maxwell, Chandler, Cleveland, Peerless and at least one Cadillac.
"The Cadillac belonged to old Leonard Haag. His son was the Fire Chief, y'know. Was fire chief m'self from 1928 to 1938. Used to keep the old fire engine out back of the gas station.
"But then they built the new fire station up on Center Road. Dad wasn't feelin too good, so I resigned. It was too far to go."
(Today it's about four minutes away by slow Camaro, Mercury Monterey, Lancer, Prancer or Vixen... whatever they call today's automobiles.)
TED KEKIC remembers when there was an old Lake Road Inn (down the road toward Bay Village) and Sophie Tucker played there, instead of some place that wouldn't come along for 40 more years... like the Desert Inn in Las Vegas or Miami's Fontainebleau. And he remembers a Guy named Lombardo that wasn't a hood from Chicago, but a band leader.
Things picked up with the grape juice business and gasoline pumps got to five-gallon size and ten-gallon... even though you still pumped'em by hand.
"The farm didn't have no water nor natural gas, but we got electric power from the old Lake Shore Electric Interurban line. The only problem was, every time a streetcar went by the old carbon lights would flicker..."
It beat watchin' out the window.
Ted Kekic never did get married. He just ran the gas station and (likely) did what he had to do with the family cow.
"We only had one. Just a family cow." But something big happened back in '27, the year Lindbergh flew the Atlantic to Paris.
KEKIC'S GULF gas station got a model of the "Spirit of St. Louis" (Lindbergh's plane) which is something of a shock to those who drive in from Cleveland the first time and see it sittin on top the pole out by the road... just like it did back in '27.
"Yep. It's been there ever since," said Peter Vivivc, 73, Ted's brother-in-law and retired railroader. "Quite a sight, ain't it?"
Peter pumps gas too, when he and Ted aren't sitting down with Fred Coleman, the attorney, and some other cronies, splittin' a verb or two over their favorite topics.
"Which are what?"
"Well... 1. Politics and religion."
"Well... We like to talk about the old times... and politics, and religion. And the old people that used to live here. And some that died or moved away..."
EVERYONE in Avon Lake has seen the scene.
Usually it's a hot summer day and the chairs are propped against the front of the building that was a summer cottage before it was a gas station. And the men that sit there talk about the time when the road in front wasn't a road, and what was – wasn't paved. And they talk about the days when it took four and a half hours by horse and buggy to get from Avon Lake to Cleveland, like Peter said, "takin' the back roads..."
And some of them, Ted in particular, can remember when a gang came along and built the road...
Here's another small article that I found on the internet about Kekic's gas station and model plane. It's from the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram
of Thursday, September 20, 1973.
Rare relic of yesteryear still in the air in Avon Lake
By Monica B. Williams
AVON LAKE – The year was 1927, and Charles Lindbergh had just made his solo flight across the Atlantic to Paris.
Adulation of the shy aviator swept the country as quickly as the news spread that his plane, "The Spirit of St. Louis," had safely touched down at Orly.
The Coca-Cola Co. joined in the general enthusiasm and erected 150 models of Lindbergh's plane around Ohio.
THERE'S ONLY ONE of the planes left in the state, according to Ted Kekic, owner of Kekic's Gulf station at 31917 Lake Rd., Avon Lake, and that's the little orange plane perched atop a pole at his service station.
The sheet metal plane, with its small bent propeller and boxy fuselage, has served as a landmark for several generations of travelers along Lake Road, and Kekic has no intention of taking it down.
The "Stop 43" painted on the plane's side is a reminder that the station was a stop on the old Lake Shore Electric Railway.
"FOR YEARS, our only address was Stop 43." Kekic remembered. "We used to have a picnic grove here, and it was easy to find – everybody knew Stop 43."
For about 10 or 15 years after the plane was erected, Coca-Cola maintained the plane, Kekic said. Now Gulf sends a man out to do the lettering on the plane's side.
Kekic's station is a landmark itself. When it was built in 1918, motorists could stop and buy gasoline for their Model T's and Model A's from a one-gallon pump cranked by hand, Kekic recalled. Later used to pump kerosene, the vintage pump now stands in a back room of the station.