Demolition begins at Dover’s Kirby & Holloway

 

Demolition began this week at the site of the Kirby & Holloway Family Restaurant, a landmark in Dover since 1948. The restaurant, which was destroyed by fire in February 2014, will be rebuilt, according to the family that owns it.  (Delaware State News photos by Dave Chambers)

Demolition began this week at the site of the Kirby & Holloway Family Restaurant, a landmark in Dover since 1948. The restaurant, which was destroyed by fire in February 2014, will be rebuilt, according to the family that owns it. (Delaware State News photos by Dave Chambers)

DOVER — The “never fear we will reopen” words haven’t been seen on the eye-catching Kirby & Holloway sign for some weeks, but it looks like progress is being made for the one-time popular restaurant to possibly rise from the ashes.

Fire, determined to be accidental and electrical, destroyed the family restaurant in February 2014.

Long-awaited demolition began this week and is expected to take two weeks, according to Philip Gray, who spoke for the family Thursday.

The day after the Feb. 2, 2014, fire, owner Jim Gray gathered with many of his regular customers and several of his 60-some employees in the parking lot on U.S. 13 and vowed to reopen the restaurant he’d owned since 1982.

He’d done much of the remodeling on the original 1948 building and was rocked by the damage, estimated to be nearly $1 million.

“It’s an old home, where you feel comfortable and can put your feet up,” Mr. Gray said that sad Sunday.

The 1950s Kirby & Holloway sign will stand sentinel over the clean site.

The 1950s Kirby & Holloway sign will stand sentinel over the clean site.

Plans to rebuild, however, had to be pushed aside as the Gray family focused on their father and his declining health. He died in May.

“It’s been difficult for the family, the last year and a half,” said Philip Gray. “First, the fire, and then my father’s passing.”

For now, they are concentrating on the demolition.

“We wanted to get the property cleaned up,” he said.

Mr. Gray, project manager for the property, has been splitting his time between Delaware and his home in Los Angeles since the fire.

It’s a family-effort, though, he said, with everybody pooling efforts and supporting each other.

The demolition has been emotional, he said. He sees much of his dad in the building.

“He did a lot of the remodeling. He was the lifeblood of that place.”

The family aims to review plans once demolition is compete.

Mr. Gray confirmed that the quintessential 1950s Kirby & Holloway sign will stand sentinel over the clean site.

Shortly after the fire, Dover’s Historic District Commission declared the sign was historically and culturally significant. It can remain, even though it doesn’t meet current standards for business signs.

While the Gray family looks forward to rebuilding they also aim to proceed cautiously, taking care to do right whatever they decide.

“We don’t want to rush forward,” Mr. Gray said.

On Thursday, he praised the community’s support, from longtime customers to Dover and Kent County officials.

Dozens of people have stopped this week, Mr. Gray said, taking photographs and asking questions.

“The community support is fantastic.”

The restaurant’s U.S. 13 location made it a convenient stopping point for southbound travelers while the down-home ambience drew locals, too.

“You don’t have to dress up and you still feel welcome and comfortable,” Jim Gray told a Delaware State News reporter in February 2014.

Established in 1948, the restaurant became the typical 1950s diner drive-in with waitresses on roller skates and popular with the airmen stationed at the steadily growing Dover Air Force Base, just a few miles south.

The original owner sold the restaurant to Ruth Steele, owner of the Lamp Post in Rehoboth Beach, in the 1960s.

By the time Jim Gray took over ownership in 1982, Kirby & Holloway no longer was a drive-in but its hearty and inexpensive meals drew a steady clientele.

On Thursday, Mr. Gray recalled how his dad took pride in Kirby & Holloway’s reputation of being the “kitchen for the community.”

“We want to keep his legacy going,” he said. “We want to serve the community.”

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