How About a Fill Up With That Dodger Dog?
It’s a high-flying ball, going, going -- it’s way out there over the center-field fence, past the right-field pavilion! It’s a solid hit!
No, that’s not Vin Scully describing a Shawn Green home run at Dodger Stadium. It’s Chuck Mercier, talking about the unusual gas station that for 41 years has stood in the middle of the stadium parking lot.
For the record:
12:00 a.m. Aug. 16, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 16, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Gas station -- An article in the July 17 California section about the Dodger Stadium 76 station referred to “Royal Triton” gasoline. That is a brand of motor oil, not gasoline.
Most fans pay no attention to the orange Union 76 ball that rotates over the station in Lot 37. Until, that is, they notice that their fuel gauge is on empty and they’re a long way from home.
Then they’re only too happy to learn that Mercier’s service station is the only one of its kind in major league baseball.
“I was absolutely ecstatic to see it here,” fan Synthia Durazo of Diamond Bar said after she limped into the station “on fumes” to buy $20 worth of regular during a recent game.
As she pulled out, Will Acosta of El Monte pulled in. His Chevy Suburban was loaded with friends and low on fuel. “We barely made it,” he confessed. “We were stalling out coming up the hill.”
Behind him was Javier Gonzales of Santa Monica and his 9-year-old daughter, Sienna. He didn’t want to risk running out of gas “in case we get stuck in gridlock after the game,” he explained.
No money-maker, the station is open only during home games and sometimes sells only 600 gallons of gas a day. But it’s been in continuous operation since Dodger Stadium was built in 1962.
In fact, the metal-framed station, its canopy-covered pump island and the non-automated pumps themselves are originals -- throwbacks to an era when uniformed attendants filled your car’s tank, washed its windshield and checked its engine oil level for you.
These days, a row of trees shields the station from the view of fans sitting in the stadium. But its distinctive orange ball can be seen. And during night games, its glow can’t be missed.
The prominent location is no accident. Union Oil Co. helped build Dodger Stadium.
Company records indicate that Union Oil’s then-chief executive, Reese Taylor, was among the local leaders who helped lure the Dodgers to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1958.
When the team built the stadium in Chavez Ravine, Union Oil helped finance the $23-million project. In exchange, it became a major sponsor of Dodger radio and television broadcasts, according to Kathleen Post, a spokeswoman for ConocoPhillips, owner of the Union 76 brand.
Union Oil Co. became Unocal in 1978, was acquired by Tosco in 1996, purchased by Phillips in 2001, and finally merged with Conoco last year to become ConocoPhillips. But the 76 brand continues. And so does its “marvelous relationship,” according to Kris Rone, the Dodgers’ executive vice president for business operations.
For years, the orange 76 logo was the only outside emblem displayed at the stadium. The ballpark’s expanse of orange and blue seats were painted those colors in tribute to Union Oil’s partnership, Rone said.
“The station is a historic and recognizable feature at Dodger Stadium. It’s become a true landmark and icon,” added Derrick Hall, another Dodgers vice president.
The station was the oil company’s most modern when it and the stadium opened. Attendants and mechanics were recruited from other Union 76 dealerships in Los Angeles to man the stadium outlet on game days.
Between games, the station was used as a Union Oil training site. Television commercials and print advertising photos promoting the company’s “Royal Triton” gasoline and “Minute Man Service” were shot there.
Veteran service station owner Roy Gasparini remembers working at the stadium station for five years in the 1970s.
“It was the best job I ever had. I saw every single home game, including the playoffs. We’d take turns going over to watch,” said Gasparini, 46, who now lives in Monrovia and operates gas stations in Arcadia and Brentwood.
“We’d be super busy before the game and then again starting at about the seventh inning. It was a different setting for a service station. People weren’t irritable. Everybody who came in was happy; they were at a ballgame.”
It was a full-service station in those days. You could drop your car off for an oil change and pick it up after the ninth inning.
“Every game, we’d have six people locking their keys in the car, two people having flats, seven leaving lights on and running down their batteries. You could count on it. People would come in with a blown radiator hose and we’d take their keys and tell them to go enjoy the game, that their car would be fixed and ready to go when they came out.”
Dodger stars such as Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Davey Lopes and Dusty Baker bought gas there. Catcher Steve Yeager was a particular favorite of Gasparini.
“A half-dozen times he and I would get to the guard gate at the same time a couple of hours before the game. We’d race through the empty stadium parking lot, him in his Mercedes and me in my Trans-Am. He lost every time, but he’d always give me a thumbs up,” Gasparini said.
Now the Auto Club provides battery-jump and flat-tire service in the stadium. The gas station’s service bays are silent, except for the radio and television tuned to the Dodger game being played behind the station.
Attendants Jesse Hernandez and Jim Brown -- who work full-time for Mercier at a pair of stations he owns in Burbank when they aren’t at the stadium -- say players still come in to gas up.
The baseball stars pump their own, though. It’s a self-service station now.
And because the 41-year-old pumps do not cut off automatically, the attendants have to remind customers to carefully watch the old-fashioned pump gauges as they squeeze the nozzle handle.
“Once in a while they forget and keep pumping. One guy went over by $2 and didn’t have any more money, so he left his watch with me. It was worth a lot more than $2, but he never came back to claim it,” said Hernandez, of Pacoima.
Mercier, who lives in Acton, said the honor system seems to work at the pump island.
“Most people are very gracious. But if somebody drives off without paying, they’re not going to get far. We get along well with Dodger security,” he said.
Though no one has ever hit an out-of-the-park homer that reached the station, Mercier catches plenty of baseballs.
He often takes in games -- or at least their middle innings.
At the end of last season, he staged a picnic at the stadium station for his three stations’ 27 employees and their families. Afterward, they all went into the stadium to watch the game.
Except for the stadium station’s crew, everyone got to stay for the whole thing.