Gay Oil Company Building

Located at 300 Broadway in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Gay Oil Company Building is an example of an early twentieth-century Neoclassical-style office building. Constructed in 1925 and covering three lots, the building served as the headquarters for the Gay Oil Company. The business was founded to sell kerosene and various lubricating oils but expanded into the sale of gasoline and various items related to automobiles. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 5, 2017.

Thomas Jefferson Gay organized the Richardson-Gay Oil Company in Texas in 1903. Focused on refining oil, Gay sold his holdings in the business in 1905 and moved to Little Rock, where he founded the Gay Oil Company in 1907. Over the decades, the focus of the business changed to include gas stations. Gay designed the building to serve as both the headquarters of the company and as a gas station. Located at the corner of Broadway and 3rd Streets in Little Rock, the building gave the company a lucrative location along the Bankhead Highway near the south end of the Broadway Bridge leading across the Arkansas River into North Little Rock (Pulaski County). By 1926, the Gay Oil Company operated nine gas stations in Little Rock and North Little Rock, including the one located at the headquarters. Gay also owned a warehouse on East 9th Street.

The two-story building faces east, fronting Broadway with 3rd Street bordering the north side. Including a full basement, the building rests on a continuous concrete foundation. The exterior of the building is covered in terra-cotta tiles on the first story and brick on the second story. Both sections are buff colored. The second story includes offices and restrooms, while the first floor includes a lobby, storefront areas, a garage, and a ramp that leads to the basement parking garage.

The first story of the building is rectangular. The second story is constructed in a U-shape with an opening in the center of the south face. This opening allows natural light to reach all the offices located on the second floor.

The building is topped with a flat roof and includes Neoclassical details at the frieze and crown. “GAY OFFICE BUILDING” is carved into the pediment located on the southern edge of the east face of the building.

Gay operated his namesake oil company until his retirement in 1938. Gay’s son and grandson continued operating the company. Gay died in 1951. The family began leasing the building to various businesses, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock Motor Company, Little Rock Law School, and Bale Chevrolet, among others.

The Gay family sold the building in 2015. After the sale, plans to demolish the building and construct a carwash at the location received widespread criticism from the Quapaw Quarter Association and others who supported the preservation of the building. Members of the Little Rock City Board of Directors also expressed their displeasure at the potential destruction of the building. After the public outcry, the demolition was halted, and the building remained intact but vacant and boarded up by 2020.

For additional information:
“Gay Oil Company Building.” National Register for Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Office, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/PU4414_nr.pdf (accessed November 19, 2020).

Herndon, Dallas, ed. Centennial History of Arkansas. Vol. 3. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing, 1922.

Herzog, Rachel. “Little Rock Building’s Sale to Carwash Firm on Hold.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 9, 2019, p. 1B.

———. “Plan for Car Wash Kindles Outcry.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 6, 2019, p. 1B.

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated: 11/19/2020