Mini-Mall to Replace Gas Station : Pumps' Demise Irks the Neighbors

Times Staff Writer

The 60-year heritage of one of the San Fernando Valley's oldest gas stations was summed up for Studio City homeowners in 15 seconds.

"We're planning a two-story shopping center with underground parking where the Unocal station is. We'll start work in late summer and expect to take 12 to 14 months to build. I'd like to address any questions you may have," developer Ira Smedra said.

Stony-faced residents had plenty of questions as they learned that their landmark neighborhood service station at the southeast corner of Ventura and Laurel Canyon boulevards will soon be bulldozed to make way for a new mini-mall.

For openers, they demanded to know why their community's gas stations seem to be disappearing one by one.

And they wanted to know the reason that so many retail "strip centers" are popping up in their place.

No Answers

Smedra didn't have an answer to either question as 110 members of the Studio City Residents Assn. met Tuesday night to hear him unveil his plans for his proposed $15-million shopping center.

"It seems like we're losing a filling station around here every week or so. Where are we going to go for gas?" grumbled one man, who asked whether Smedra would be willing to install gas pumps at his mall to help out.

"You can laugh at it if you want, but now that you're wiping out the gas station, are you providing any public restrooms?" added association member Jerry Hays.

Smedra, who acquired the property and the Unocal lease 18 months ago, answered no to both questions.

Homeowner Bina Garfield questioned the need for more retail space in Studio City. "I'm a consumer. But how much can we consume? How much more shopping space do we need? There's nothing we really need there except a grocery store and a gas station," Garfield said.

Upscale Shops Promised

Smedra promised that his "Laurel Promenade" center--which will have a 255-space above- and below-ground parking lot--will feature upscale shops and boutiques that will lure shoppers who have been unimpressed by other shopping centers recently opened on the boulevard.

"We think we can do better than the guy down the street," he explained.

Homeowner Phyllis Brownbridge was sobbing when she left the meeting and stepped into a light rain falling outside the association's meeting room. "All of Studio City is crying," said Brownbridge, who works as a cashier at the Unocal station.

Pat Galati, who has operated the gas station and an adjoining carwash on Unocal-leased land since January, 1954, said gas was first pumped at the corner in 1929.

He said he and his 38 employees may find out today whether Unocal officials can find another location in the area for them to move to.

"Closing will be sad. People look at this place as an institution. I've served three generations of families around here," Galati said, recalling that deer frequently strolled past his gas pumps when he took over the station.

At the Tiny Naylor's restaurant next to the gas station, manager Louis Ledesma was hoping Wednesday that his 37 employees--including cook Freddie Acuna, who has worked there 23 years--can move into Smedra's new shopping center. The restaurant subleases its site from Unocal.

"This restaurant has been here 40 years. We feel it is a landmark," Ledesma said.

Smedra was offering little hope that there will be room for Tiny Naylor's, however. "We're talking to a couple of restaurants. But they're upscale, not coffee shops," he said.

Homeowners group President Polly Ward said there is nothing residents can do to stop the project because Smedra needs only a routine building permit to start work.

"He knows how the community feels--not very happy," she said.

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