Verdugo Views: Adams Square Mini Park is in good company
The first gas stations, built at busy intersections in rapidly growing neighborhoods, both here in Southern California and across the nation, were a vital component to suburban growth. But for years many have stood neglected.
Now, according to a National Park Service website called “The Preservation and Reuse of Historic Gas Stations,” they are being rediscovered.
“Once spurned as out-of-place incursions or eyesores, historic stations are increasingly appreciated for their contribution to the character of a neighborhood, and the way they are easily adapted for new uses,” according to the website
One local example can be found in Adams Hill, where, at the instigation of residents, a 1936 Richfield Oil station was rescued and rehabbed by the city of Glendale.
Let’s take a look back to the 1920s, when rapid growth brought several new housing developments, including the area now known as Adams Hill.
Along with this growth came a post office, another high school, a junior college, an air terminal, a symphony, a radio station (KIEV), country clubs, more banks, hospitals and newspapers, and many churches. And the need for service stations.
Richfield Oil Corp., founded in California in 1905, according to Wikipedia, opened its first automotive service station in 1917 and quickly expanded, erecting a Streamline Moderne station at the corner of Palmer Avenue and Adams Street in 1936.
By 1947, it had become a Standard Oil station, according to Ralph Spinner, who left his job at Lockheed, took over the business from John Stamolas and began selling gas, oil and tires and repairing cars. Most of his customers were Adams Hill residents, he told historian and community activist Arlene Vidor in a 2007 oral history.
In 1949, Spinner went back to Lockheed, turning the station over to someone else. For 30 more years, it served the neighborhood, but fell victim to the times in the 1980s and closed.
In recent years, Adams Hill has had an influx of new residents, according to a city brochure called “Come Home to Glendale.” Along with artists, writers, young professionals, and third-generation residents who were already there, they sought a place to gather and urged the city to renovate the abandoned gas station property.
The city responded, incorporating the 1936 building into a new Adams Square Mini Park (completed and dedicated in 2007) and creating a green space in the center of the local business district. The old station has become an art venue, and the surrounding park and playground are a big draw for families.
In recognition of its importance to the city’s history, the building was listed on the Glendale Register of Historic Resources earlier this year.
Residents and city officials celebrated its new status at a midsummer gathering, amid vintage props (including 1950s-era Richfield gas pumps) set up by a local collector, Bill James, and residents Jim and Pam Elyea, who own History for Hire. Vidor introduced the guest of honor, Ralph Spinner, who proudly posed for photos.
Vidor, who helped lead the fight to restore the station, said in a later email, “The blighted little old gas station is now a great example of the power of adaptive reuse. It is the centerpiece of a small green space that has become a community meeting spot and art venue.”
Claire Collins, president of the Assistance League of Glendale during the conversion of the Kiefer and Eyerick Mortuary (Verdugo Views, Sept. 24, 2016) emailed me to publicly express her appreciation to several people for their support, including Donna Ziel, the organization’s capital-campaign leader. “With her previous experience doing this for another group, she was invaluable,” she wrote.
Collins also wanted to thank Ginger and Charles Whitesell, who “helped us in so many ways,” Adrienne Brinton and Anita Williams, “financial wizards who kept us out of trouble where money was involved,” and Realtor Tony Maniscalchi, who showed them some 25 properties before phoning one day regarding the mortuary.
No exterior changes were made — with the exception of a wrought-iron gate at the entrance — and they hope to eventually attain historic status. An elevator, completed in 2012, moves boxes of Operation School Bell items and provides a “quick ride upstairs for our older members who find the stairs difficult but still want to serve the philanthropic projects.”
Several longtime members are now in or approaching their 90s and are still volunteering. “I find that really remarkable,” Collins wrote.
She also said she appreciated Osborn Architects and George Hopkins Construction for their support. “They were forthcoming in their suggestions to us and extremely patient with 70 women who had ideas to contribute. And, they were understanding of our constant concern about the monies involved and tried to help with that.”
KATHERINE YAMADA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. or by mail at Verdugo Views, c/o News-Press, 202 W. First St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. Please include your name, address and phone number.