National Park Service To Demolish 1920s Gas Station
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Apr. 23, 2010
A long-abandoned gas station in Wellfleet, Mass., will be demolished later this year, the National Park Service has announced.
Built in the 1920s, the Indian Filling Station has been closed since 1971. The Park Service has owned two buildings on the property—the filling station and an office, located within the Cape Cod National Seashore—since 1993. Its pumps and signs are long gone, and the dilapidated filling station is dangerous, the Park Service says.
"There's no way this building can physically stand much longer. It's a safety and health hazard," says Bill Burke, park historian at the Cape Cod National Seashore. Burke says the building will likely be demolished by September.
However, state preservationists have questioned the park service's decision. According to the Boston Globe, in February Brona Simon, the state historic preservation officer, wrote a letter to the National Seashore saying her office "still believes that this particular resource is a rare, intact survival of its type."
Park service officials disagree, pointing to nine other similar gas stations—one in nearby Truro—built in the 1930s. Most of those are protected: they're either listed on the National Register of Historic Places or standing in designated historic districts. Edward Hopper likely used the Truro station as inspiration for his 1940 painting "Gas."
The Massachusetts Historical Commission may ask the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places to rule on whether the Indian Filling Station is eligible for the National Register. A 2009 report by Public Archaelogy Laboratory, Inc., based in Pawtucket, R.I., concluded it was not eligible. The filling station and office "are in ruinous condition and are beyond repair or rehabilitation," the report said.
Regardless of whether the Keeper of the National Register deems the Indian Filling Station eligible or ineligible for the list, Burke says, "it's coming down." (If the Keeper designates a site eligible, a federal agency can still demolish it, but first it must provide documentation of the site's history. Burke says that such documentation has already been provided, and points to the 2009 report as evidence.)
"As a historian, I think it's a really fascinating story—the station is a great symbol of what the Cape was to become," he says. "But it's not a rare survivor in our eyes, and the Hopper connection is tenuous at best. It's a great historical image, but physically it just can't stand up on its own anymore."
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