The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
July 8, 2008

Dude, where’s my gas station?

There’s something curious going on in Wellington at present, with a reduction in the number of gas stations going on. Perhaps it is not something to be too upset about, and maybe it is just the start of a well deserved end to an urban design form of none too exciting character, but there seems to be a distinct inclination to demolish old gas stations, and not commission new ones. Is this the start of a new urban phenomenom? Being an urban soul who doesn’t venture far into the horrors of the suburbs, I understand from far flung friends in fairer fields that gas stations line the routes home to suburbs like uh, north, and south. Who knows, perhaps even east and west have them too.But in the city, like corner dairies in the foothills of the Hutt Valley, gas stations are shutting up their central city doors and not coming back. Oh sure, its no big deal perhaps, and there are still 2 or 3 central city sites belonging to BP and Shell which obviously chew up a fair bit of the petrol being pumped out to Wellington’s commuters, but it seems that most of the sites are relocating out to the ‘burbs. 

shellnaki.jpg 

It is not something just confined to Wellingtonians either. Allegedly there are only 10 gas stations left in the whole of Manhattan, and queues get kinda ugly at times; or the bridge and tunnel folk get kinda edgy as they realise they won’t make it home on their remaining tank of gas. Same thing could happen here – except of course there is not quite so far to go. 

shell-vivian.jpg 

I suspect that the issue is not just to do with the price of fuel. Indeed, with the price of a litre of unleaded now at around $2.10 you might think that it would be a profitable thing to get into – but apparently not – profit is a slim margin at the pump. Perhaps it is more to do with the price of land driving up temptation to sell out for yet another tower block of yuppy flats – or perhaps it is more to do with the modern car – they just don’t break down any more. The old scenario of a gas pump out the front, and a garage out the back is as far gone as the bobby on the beat.

gas-station1.jpg 

Nowadays, when a gas station is serious, they link into another whole world of retail, of glass walls and plastic signage, and oh god, if you really want to punish yourself, a drive-through Mickie D as well. Gas is just a sideline, a ticket to entry to another whole world of retail involving family-sized bags of potato chips, a wall of high-fructose colas, and a plethora of ford vs holden related branded baseball caps and mirrored shades. 

bpnaki.jpg 

The architecture, such as it was, is fading away.  At one stage the gas station had its own architecture, a visible brand that was as recognisable as the logo itself, as recognisable as McDonalds’ mighty golden arches (now just confined to a squiggle on a paper cup or tv ad). Challenge (once part of the once-mighty Fletcher empire) had a tensile roof structure supported off steel trees and branches. Caltex had a huge star motif, and gung-ho architecture to match. Mobil used to have two enormous glowing white discs suspended seemingly from mid-air (actually just stuck to the soffit), and British Petroleum had a very green theme going on. Did I mention the old Go Well Go Shell? with their solid theme of red and yellow. Well nowadays there is nothing but red and yellow. 

wakefield.jpg 

But given a move by taxi companies and others to go green, when are we going to see an abandonment of traditional gas station architecture and a move towards a row of plug in sockets? Is it going to be that all we need is a large plane of solar cells on your own car roof? When are those last remaining station sites going to be redeveloped and arise again as a multi-storey building? Is that inevitable or is there going to be another way?

mobileabel.jpg 

Gary
8 - 07 - 08

One former site you missed is the old BP Roadmaster on Jervois Quay (which actually only came into being after the original one was demolished for the Michael Fowler Centre (If my memory serves correct), which is now a Tony’s Tyre place.
Although I understand that the Council may actually own the site, (they are/were looking to do something in terms of a further elevated crossing of the quays when Frank Kitts park is eventually redeveloped.

There was also an old Shell Service station on Thorndon Quay (just under the motorway) that has now become a hip furniture store.

starkive
8 - 07 - 08

Gary,

I think you’ll find that the Jervois Quay site was a flagship for the NZ (Todd?)-owned Europa brand. Universally referred to as the “Big E on the Quay” and a key image in the epic “Travellin’ On” Europa ad featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan, Midge Marsden, Brigitte Berger and Murray Grindlay, plus a whole lot of the Central Plateau.

It was one of the first retail-capable gas stations, long before Star Mart, and possibly the destination for David Lange when he clipped a pedestrian on Jervois Quay on his way for some emergency late-night meat pies.

Oh… and don’t forget Sybill Lupp in Aro St.

Seamonkey Madness
8 - 07 - 08

Even the ones in the ‘burbs have long been been an endangered species. The old Karori Caltex(?) has been a liquor store for ages.

Alex
8 - 07 - 08

I was thinking about this just the other week when I walked passed the old Shell on Vivian where I used to fill my gas bottle when I lived near by.

Land prices – I’m assuming you can’t build dwellings or offices above a couple of combustible tanks.

I’m assuming when those old stations get to the point when the tanks need replacing they abandon the station/sell the site – Similar thing folk used to complain about approx 10 years ago in remote rural towns – that the oil compnaies weren’t upgrading or replacing their ageing petrols tations. No complaining here though …….

Robyn
8 - 07 - 08

I think you’ll find that the Jervois Quay site was a flagship for the NZ (Todd?)-owned Europa brand.

I recently picked up a second-hand book about Wellington buildings that mentioned this. It was a modern new concept building – it wasn’t just a service station, but also the adjacent car park and office building. This was, at the time, considered to be the way things would be done in The Future.

My impression of it is that it was like a 1970s version of a 1950s American petrol station that would have probably been called something like a Gas-o-rama.

If only something could be done with all these dead petrol stations. They’re quite horrible places to have to walk past.

rondo
8 - 07 - 08

Sybill Lupp ? WTF…? Starkive – tell us more! …and Robyn – what was the book? i like the sound of The Future and the Gas-o-rama. I’ve heard that there is an (unwritten?) understanding that as long as Shell has an outlet on the Quay, then BP will too; and neither will vacate without the other one going as well. Not sure where that leaves the dead Shell in Vivian St though….

I’d imagine that the contamination of a disused petrol station is quite an issue to deal with, especially if the tanks ever leak into the ground… would make it a brownfield site that no-one would particularly want to deal with.

jayseatee
8 - 07 - 08

i was always loved the weirdness of one of the urban gas stations in the washington dc area. Right across the river is a dense area of high rise towers called roslyn. In the centre of roslyn was a church where the entire ground floor was a gas station (chevron oil co.)
the church and gas station was collectively referred to as “our lady of chevron”

not great pictures unfortunately, but best i could find
http://www.flickr.com/photos/christaki/2642322367/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/christaki/2330070214/

jayseatee
8 - 07 - 08

more info, and better story about our lady of chevron (apparently exxon before that.)
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/special/enron/4524181.html

maximus
8 - 07 - 08

Hold on – “The house of worship she has served since May is best known for its location just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, across the skywalk from the Rosslyn, Va., subway stop and straddling, fittingly, a Chevron gas station.” ? So the church is above the gas station? Seriously? JCT – pictures! this we must see!

rondo
8 - 07 - 08

Aah, dude, there’s a picture right there! A lady (Cathy Abbott) in front of her church/gas station. Use your eyes!

maximus
8 - 07 - 08

Rondo – such a pleasure, ‘dude’. I was hoping for something a little bigger… perhaps showing us more of the church and less of the ‘lady’.

Gary
8 - 07 - 08

How about here
http://www.nowpublic.com/our_lady_of_exxon

DeepRed
8 - 07 - 08

“Oh… and don’t forget Sybill Lupp in Aro St.”

For some reason, that one charged a cent less than all the other stations. It also featured in Goodbye Pork Pie.

Jason
8 - 07 - 08

“I’ve heard that there is an (unwritten?) understanding that as long as Shell has an outlet on the Quay, then BP will too; and neither will vacate without the other one going as well.”

I don’t think this is so much a rule as a fact of competition, and the fact that both are on very good sites. Although the Shell opposite the Holiday Inn/Post Office Building (Shell Harbour City maybe?) is anecdotally the last petrol station in the country to change its price, as the people in offices in the North end of BP House used to be able to look straight out their windows and see it. The Maritime tower has changed that as far as I can tell.

Andrew
8 - 07 - 08

Frustratingly the ones that close all seem to be the ones I use – the Shell up in Northland, the one on Aro St, the Vivian St one (which I would have thought would have made killing at the end of the motorway). I hope the Brooklyn Caltex hangs around for a while longer.

What is more annoying though are the vacant lots/bomb sites that remain once they’ve gone – the Aro St Shell site is just awful as is the Caltex on Wakefield.

DeepRed
8 - 07 - 08

The fundamental problem is, the storage tanks aren’t a walk in the park to remove.

With the Vivian St Shell, it was apparently earmarked for renovation, but that seems to have languished. And a campervan park was initially proposed for the former Aro St Shell, but nothing came of it.

jayseatee
9 - 07 - 08

maximus-
here are more pictures, including the petrol price sign
http://tinyurl.com/63f352
http://tinyurl.com/5gxbzg

Maximus
9 - 07 - 08

Sybil Lupp, for those who don’t know, was a remarkable woman: and an exceptional racing car driver.
http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/sybil-lupp
Also a mean mechanic – which you would have to be, servicing British sports cars with multiple carburettors. She used to drive Jaguars, especially liking the roar of the V12 Jag, and used to race over the Rimutaka Hills at a decent pace, smiling sweetly at the police officers as they choked on their moustaches at the sight of this sweet young woman driving: perhaps not what they were expecting behind the wheel. Or even less expectant later when she was a sweet old lady, still behind the wheel of a V12 Jag.
http://www.drivesouth.co.nz/news/4395/had-drive-and-makeup

Presumably, from Starkive’s comments, Sybil’s garage was the one at the bottom of Aro Valley, next to the small park: and the garage is looking very desolate now. Surely someone could find a use for it?

Maximus
9 - 07 - 08

and for more on the Arlington Temple – United Methodist church atop a gas station, built in 1971 on Fort Myer Drive, it is “the only place of worship in Rosslyn’s business district” and “notable for its location above a gas station, which was a precondition in the donation of the land. It is the only combination church and gas station in the United States.”

So it would seem to say that there is nothing to stop us building here in NZ atop a gas station. Surely, if it is ok for a house of prayer, and god appears not to mind, and the gas doesn’t stink the parishioners out: then it should be ok for us as well.

Still keen for more? Check also : http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=2&mid=3005
excerpt: “As the landlord for the gas station, the church pumps the rental income into its coffers. The money helps keep the urban congregation of about 250 members going. When a 2002 blizzard destroyed the church roof, the gas money helped pay for a replacement.

The combination gas station-church has been in the center of Rosslyn for 31 years. The Rev. James Robertson established the church on land donated 40 years ago by a lumberyard owner, and the first worship services were held in the carpenter’s shop.

“Dr. Robertson had a real passion for urban ministry,” McDonald Walker says. “He just had a call to plant a church where there were offices and hotels in commercial areas to be a presence of Christ in such an area.”

Robertson also knew that property in commercial areas such as Rosslyn, with its gleaming skyscrapers filled with office workers, was expensive. His solution: build a house of worship on top of a house of commerce.”

jayseatee
9 - 07 - 08

it’s an interesting question whether in our day of megafear whether a building on top of a gas station could get built again. The first potential “outrage” would be the prospect of a building sitting on top of an explosive source. Of course many buildings have emergency generators which have fuel tanks, my understanding is that these are typically diesel fuelled which is slow burning, but it’s not like we’re not talking about the gas station selling jet fuel.

There are some green building issues that would be hard to rectify. I am more familiar with the US standard than our new NZ greenstar standard, but there are definitely requirements for keeping odours out of the building, especially away from any air source to the building interior. The US standard requires smoking areas outside the building to be 50′ from any building entrance or intake, so I think a gas station on the ground floor would probably muck that up.

On the other hand, the US standard does have a specific provision that advocates for the provision of alternative fuelling stations within the building – spaces to plug in our electric cars, or CNG fuelling stations (which I believe would be far more dangerous than regular petrol right?..)

Interestingly, many of the “full service” car parks in the DC cbd offer a car wash and detailing service while you are parked for the day. There is a great marketing opportunity for a building with an alternative fuel source station to say – pay to park here and refuel your car for free while it’s parked.

guy
9 - 07 - 08

I was talking to a local architect the other day who is looking, on behalf of his multinational oil conglomerate client, at building on top of a gas station in Wellington…. apparently there are no restrictions, other than a reluctance on behalf of some people to live/work (and pray?) on top of a gas station, as, despite what any number of Bruce Willis / Sly Stallone movies may tell you, they really don’t blow up in spectacular fireballs that often… if at all.

Jason
9 - 07 - 08

Guy, I was just about to post the same thing. Except my source was the multinational oil conglomerate client. Wellington’s two degrees of separation…

starkive
9 - 07 - 08

Never mind the paranoia about fireballs. What rationale was there for the months and months of labour and millions of dollars which turned the Capital City Ford site in Taranaki St from an old two-storey industrial shed with a huge asphalt apron into a shiny new two-storey industrial shed with an even bigger asphalt apron? Right in the poshest bit of the Te Aro apartment bloom. Surely nobody would object to living above a car showroom?

jayseatee
9 - 07 - 08

i do have to admit – they do occasionally blow up.

but only when not properly run.

In my hometown there was a not bright man who had a service station. He was not the cleanest guy, ran an incredibly messy shop, and basically the lot was a junkyard that happened to also sell petrol.
He also ran a messy life which ended up with he and one of his sons living in an add on to the back of the station.

One day, if I recall correctly, he was doing a bit of welding…., or something not exactly bright to do in a gas station.

The building literally blew up with a fireball that was taller than anything else in town. Granted it was a small town, but the flames were a good 4 storeys tall if not taller.

I remember it most distinctly because I was in high school at the time and it happened at Homecoming. In the US homecoming is a big deal, involves bonfires, and that year, for the first time ever the school had decided not to host a bonfire because of poor weather conditions.

The station literally blew up in the middle of the homecoming game.
A conspiracist would think it were planned if it had not for the fact that the guy lost everything he had and had no insurance.

Maximus
9 - 07 - 08

Starkive: re Capital City Ford – huge wrangle at the time with the Council. Egos bruised. Teeth clenched. Mouth zippered.

Tell us more about Sybil – do you have any films on her exploits?

Jayseateee: it’d be interesting to see how it compared to the movie’s vision – get any pictures of that one? Fireballs are great fun and all very spectacular, but not really dangerous unless you try and confine the gases. Let it blow off to the atmosphere (ie vent pipe to top of building, or thoroughly vented ground floor) and there shouldn’t be too many issues against building on top.

starkive
9 - 07 - 08

Maximus…
Here’s a couple of Sybil snaps, and there’s a nice entry for her on the dictionary of nz biography (www.dnzb.govt.nz/dnzb) “‘They all laughed when I asked for boys’ toys,’ she recalled later. ‘But I used to get them in the end.’”

http://www.sergent.com.au/other1949.html
http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/sybil-lupp

No films I’m afraid.

guy
9 - 07 - 08

Jason – BP, Shell, or Mobil? I’m presuming not Gasoline Alley Services….

starkive
9 - 07 - 08

I have tried to post links to Sybil photos and bio, but something in the server seems to object… Would-be Luppites should try the Dictionary of New Zealand biography for more info. There seem to be no films, I’m afraid.

DeepRed
9 - 07 - 08

Guy: “I was talking to a local architect the other day who is looking, on behalf of his multinational oil conglomerate client, at building on top of a gas station in Wellington…. apparently there are no restrictions, other than a reluctance on behalf of some people to live/work (and pray?) on top of a gas station, as, despite what any number of Bruce Willis / Sly Stallone movies may tell you, they really don’t blow up in spectacular fireballs that often… if at all.”

If I’m not much mistaken, that’ll be the Harbour City Shell station. One of my clients I deal with at work recently told me that AMP was planning a development on that site.

Starkive: “What rationale was there for the months and months of labour and millions of dollars which turned the Capital City Ford site in Taranaki St from an old two-storey industrial shed with a huge asphalt apron into a shiny new two-storey industrial shed with an even bigger asphalt apron? Right in the poshest bit of the Te Aro apartment bloom. Surely nobody would object to living above a car showroom?”

They could have built it like the Portal Apartments on Cable St, where there’s an indoor car showroom on the ground floor, and the apartments above.

guy
10 - 07 - 08

“If I’m not much mistaken, that’ll be the Harbour City Shell station.”

…might have been…. might not have been….. but that Harbour City Shell Station site would make a damn good waterfront site – as i am sure half the architects and developers in town have already thought about…

Question is: rather than just a monument to Corporate tumescence, what would be best for Wellington on that site?

DeepRed
11 - 07 - 08

Guy: “Question is: rather than just a monument to Corporate tumescence, what would be best for Wellington on that site?”

A vertical village, perhaps?

jayseatee
11 - 07 - 08

hello? we have a billion dollars worth of boondoggle to discuss- where is the posting?… totally relevant to the gas stations discussion too.

Jason
11 - 07 - 08

yeah holy moley. I don’t even know what boondoggle is, but it will certainly be important to this region going forward.

maximus
11 - 07 - 08

Boondoggle waits for the weekend when Maximus is not working….

jayseatee
11 - 07 - 08

“Boondoggle waits for the weekend when Maximus is not working….”

to my mind boondoggle and work are one and the same….

boondoggle |?bo?n?däg?l; -?dôg?l| informal
noun
work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value

jayseatee
11 - 07 - 08

btw-
thank god that NO ONE know my nom de guerre.

maximus
11 - 07 - 08

oh, we know who you are “Jayseatee”, and where you and your children live….

…but your secrets remain safe with us.

By the way, for those who wait in vain at times to find their posting: yes, the spam catcher occasionally puts your carefully worderd comments in with the Nigerian con-artists and (mostly) Russian spam-porn merchants, so we do need to carefully sift through (with a thick pair of rubber gloves on, some of that spam is pretty toxic and smells real bad!) to find your masterpiece. So you don’t need to post 3 times – we will find it, a few hours later.

In the mean time, Jayseatee, which particular bit of boondoggle are you referring to? The airwaves are full of it today….

starkive
11 - 07 - 08

Now I am intrigued by the thought of what the trigger words might have been… my guess is “b0ys t0ys”.

jayseatee
11 - 07 - 08

okay…..boondoggle….I did not realise it was such a misunderstood word. While we might argue that our local government is filled with boondoggles I can only think of one particular work in the billion dollar range….

Flash
10 - 07 - 09

New comment for an old but interesting post.Lupp was one half of Archer & Lupp, located on WIllis Street, part-way between Dixon and Guziness Streets. Jags littered the forecourt. I used to walk past almost daily as a child in the ’70s, living in upper WIllis Street.
http://www.oldfriends.co.nz/Institution.aspx?id=149520

There’s still an A & L listed, but I no longer live in the city, so can’t vouch for its currency:
http://www.hotfrog.co.nz/Companies/Archer-Lupp-Services

Alex
4 - 01 - 10

I was thinking about this just the other week when I walked passed the old Shell on Vivian where I used to fill my gas bottle when I lived near by.

Land prices – I'm assuming you can't build dwellings or offices above a couple of combustible tanks.

I'm assuming when those old stations get to the point when the tanks need replacing they abandon the station/sell the site – Similar thing folk used to complain about approx 10 years ago in remote rural towns – that the oil compnaies weren't upgrading or replacing their ageing petrols tations. No complaining here though …….