EXCELSIOR BLVD.: GASOLINE ALLEY

Even before “car culture” emerged as a result of the new highways of the 1950s, Excelsior Blvd. was famous (notorious?) for all of its gas stations. This chapter attempts to list all the stations that pumped gas between France Avenue and the Hopkins line. At last count the number topped 40. Surely this was the Gas Station Capital of the Midwest.

Today only a few of these stations still exist, and even the survivors were reconstructed in the 1980s. One reason for the demise of so many stations is that while cars were relatively easy to work on in the past, the electronics, etc. of today’s cars are more complicated and require expensive equipment. Another reason is that the Environmental Protection Agency now requires that underground tanks be replaced every 20 years in order to avoid the problems of leaks prevalent in the past. It may cost up to $150,000 to replace the tanks, and many stations didn’t have enough volume to justify the cost. And, of course, with more fuel efficient cars, there is simply a lower demand for gasoline. These days there are only a handful of service stations left on the Boulevard – adequate for today’s needs, but Gasoline Alley no more.

Some information for this section was provided by Virginia Brown Parks, daughter of Sid Brown, who operated the Pure Oil station at 3901 Excelsior for many years. Thanks also to Tom Smith of Minikahda Mobil, a later incarnation of that historic station, for his insights. An excellent source of pictures and information is The American Gas Station by Michael Karl Witzel.


EARLY PARK GAS STATIONS

The following are the oldest-known gas stations in the Park.  We don’t know where many of them were.  The stations in this section were not in Brookside unless noted.

As early as 1900 the Village was buying gasoline from Standard Oil, but probably not for automobiles.

1917
In May an ordinance was passed by the Village Council “providing for the keeping, sale, and storage of crude petroleum, gasoline (sic) naphtha, benzine or camphene…” At the end it did provide for the keeping of up to 500 gallons in “a metal tank buried beneath the surface of the earth, with filling and ventilating pipes properly affixed thereto, and situated not less than ten feet from all buildings and having no connection with any building or buildings.”

Locally, we know from Village Council reimbursement records that there were a handful of places that a motorist could buy gasoline for his “machine.” (The Creosote Plant had its own tanks, naturally.)

 

Henry Woerner of Brookside asked to put a gasoline filling station (presumably tanks) under the sidewalk in front of his place on Excelsior Blvd, probably at Brookside Ave. An ad dated August 1917 verifies that he had a Standard station.

The Yellow Trail Garage was mentioned in 1917. This may have been on Excelsior Blvd., which was on the route of the Yellowstone Trail. See Automotive Milestones.

1919

John C. Eckers had a Pure Oil filling station on Minnetonka Blvd., most likely at Louisiana Ave., until at least 1922.

1921

The Village bought grease and oil from Sinclair Refining Co. and Charles Hamilton. They bought gas from Mobil Oil, F.W. Van Sant, manager.

Louis Berkowitz also sold gasoline to the Village. Berkowitz had a store on Minnetonka Blvd., first at about where the current City Hall is, then at Salem. 

 

Other operators in 1921 included A.J. Brunnell (Standard Oil, September) and John Freeland.

 

1922

S.K. Strong operated a station – whereabouts unknown.
 

1923

Kunz Oil Co. (Bulk)

Standard Oil – this became the station most frequently used by the Village. It may be the station at Brookside and Excelsior

1924

Carl Reiss sold gas at the streetcar waiting station. This pump was gone by 1929, and the tank was dug up during renovations in the late 30s. Art R. Voeks was another operator in 1924.
 

1925
Albert R. Simonson ran a gas station

1926

Emil Rey (on Highway 12)
Mrs. A. A. Corry
R.E. Hyer
John Hancock Oil Co.

1929:

A business directory included garage owners Charles Anderson, J. Carl Johnson, Julius Johnson, and Holger J. Nelson.


GASOLINE ALLEY
 

Stations on Excelsior Boulevard are listed below. Some address click to more information about the site. There may be some errors, as streets may have been realigned and street numbers changed since some of these items were reported in Village Council Minutes and Park Street Directories.

It is also interesting to note that permits were awarded to sell “dangerous liquids,” which apparently encompassed more than gasoline, since one such permit was awarded to Dana Thompson at Brookside Grocery, who wasn’t known to sell gas.

3900 Excelsior is located on the NW corner of Excelsior and France. It had been a gas station since about 1927 – before that was a restaurant. For 20 years it was Chick Gibson’s Standard Oil Station. The building was rebuilt in 1953, and it became a dry cleaner in 1957. It was torn down for the Ellipse project.

3901 Excelsior, located on the SW corner of Excelsior and France, was famous as the Pure Oil Station, run by Sid Brown. The station was established in 1926, and Sid ran it from 1931 to 1951. In 1952 it became Johnny’s Pure Oil Service.  The building was remodeled in 1950, and replaced in 1968. Later Minikahda Mobil and most recently renamed Auto Motion, it is one of the few remaining gas stations on Excelsior.

3930 Excelsior was a Falcon Oil station from 1955 to 1966. This one-pump station was on the premises of the Minikahda Motor Inn, later the Best Western American Inn, between France and Huntington. It was owned by Owen Husby and son, the owners of the motel. It was removed many years ago.

4100 Excelsior, on the NW corner of Excelsior and Huntington, was the address of the Hanke home, but there are some indications of two gas pumps on or near the premises in 1930. In 1931 Lydia Hanke requested a permit for an oil station on Excelsior Blvd. near Highland Ave. [36th Street]. Relatives who knew Lydia Hanke find it difficult to imagine this stately but fragile woman with her ever-present foxtail furs going into the oil business…

4200 Excelsior is located at the NW corner of Excelsior and 36 ½ Street. It was a Phillips 66 station from 1950 to 1974. In 1952 it was Dick’s 66 Service, R.E. Hartzenberg, Prop.  It served a number of other businesses until it was demolished in 1991. It is now the site of Midas Auto Service.

4300 Excelsior is located at the SW corner of Excelsior and 36 ½ Street. It was a very early station, as we find a notation that in 1931 Robert Johnson made an addition to his stucco gas station. For most of its life it was a Cities Service station, most notably run by George and Robert Brooks from about 1938 to 1949. At various times it also served as a restaurant and hardware store as well. The current building was built around 1958-60, and continued as a Cities Service until the early 1960s. After that it was an office building, restaurant, sub shop, and finally Opitz Outlet.

4301 Excelsior is located at the point between Excelsior Blvd. (south side) and Joppa. This station for some reason shared the same address as the next-door Colonial Inn. Information is spotty: From 1950 to 1966 it was Joppa-Excelsior Service run by Bob O’Donnell. In 1969 it was Rene’s Park Service and Transmission. In 1976 it became Muffler Clinic and Brakes.

4400 Excelsior Blvd. is located between Kipling and Monterey on the north side of Excelsior. It was a gas station starting in 1931 as Henry E. Mann’s Service Station. It was primarily a Texaco station, although it was a Shell in the 1950s and a DX starting in 1959. It appears that by 1970 it was no longer a gas station. There was some relationship to the Jiffy Car Wash, which is on Kipling – the owner of the car wash removed the gas pumps.

4419/4425/4429 Excelsior Blvd. is located at the confluence of Excelsior, 38th Street, Monterey, and Lynn. There were two service buildings on the corner of Excelsior and 38th. One was built in 1947 for Holand Motors, which operated until 1981, when it became Smith Motors. The second building, which appears to be just for gas, is gone. It was built on or before 1940, when Douglas Reese operated King Oil. The station changed hands and brands often: DX, Kunz Oil, Shell, and finally Skelly when it closed in 1961. Smith Motors, at 4419 Excelsior, was owned by Paul B. Smith.

4509/4515 Excelsior was on the south side of Excelsior between Lynn and Natchez. There was a D-X Station there in 1940, owned by N.L. Robey.  The station was rebuilt in 1950 by John Beyman for $50,000.  Other iterations were:  (John I.) Daly’s Texaco (1952) and Carpenter’s Texaco (1954).  It was rebuilt once again in 1958 for $39,000, and run as Greg Tidholm Texaco (1959-70).  At one point it was Park Texaco owned by James L. Benyon.  The building was demolished in 1976 and is now the parking lot for the Lang-Nelson Building.

4701 Excelsior is at the SW corner of Excelsior and Natchez. It is one of the oldest sites and is one of the few still operating. It was originally built by Robert Johnson in 1925. In 1935 Frank Scoville had a permit to operate a two-pump Gold Star Service Station at the address, but it was still in Johnson’s name when it was rebuilt in 1941. It was run as a Phillips 66, DX (Bert Jones, Prop. in 1952), and Standard station until that building was torn down in 1957 and rebuilt by Standard Oil. It was Russell’s Standard from 1986-93.  In 2005, the station was purchased by St. Louis Park residents Steve and Sue Wolfe.  It was an Amoco, then a bp.

4714 Excelsior was on the north side of Excelsior between Natchez and Princeton. It was the site of a Clark station from 1948 to 1981. It served as Classic’s parking lot in 1981 until about 1999 when Classic was demolished to make way for Excelsior and Grand.

4800 Excelsior was at the NW corner of Excelsior and Princeton. It was the site of a gas station and possibly a fruit and vegetable stand as well. It goes back to at least 1926, when Frank Friedman was ordered to cease operations because his station was “dangerous and a menace to public safety.” The problem was that it was a “curb station” and that configuration had to be remedied. The original building was replaced in 1967, and the site is now part of Excelsior and Grand.

4825 Excelsior is at the SE corner of Excelsior and Princeton. It started out as the stable for Engell Dairy. By 1926 it was the St. Louis Park Service Garage. It operated as a car repair garage and gas station. By 1948  it was Lambin Motors, and in the 1960s it was Park Auto Upholstery. It became German Auto Works, run by Donald W. Lindall, in 1971.
 

5000 Excelsior was the address of many different endeavors, from the dump, car wash, ice house, and trailer rental. There is evidence of (Robert’s) Pure Oil Station back in 1959. In 1963 four 4,000 gallon gas tanks were installed at the Miracle Car Wash. From 1970 to 1982 it was a Union 76 station. The site is now part of the Park Nicollet campus.

5050 Excelsior, on the north side of Excelsior, was a stucco building built in 1947 and operated as a Zephyr Oil Station until about 1954 when it was Beltline Standard. From 1959 to 1968 it was Miracle Mile Direct Service, and then from 1968 to 1970 it was Miracle Mile Standard. Willie Gail ran a Standard station for another year, and it was wrecked in October 1972 to make way for the new Citizens State Bank building.

5066/5500 Excelsior Blvd. was also located on the north side of Excelsior. In November 1930, Jefferson Jones received a permit to operate a filling station. From 1933 to 1939 it was the Brookside Shell Service, run by J.A. “Art” Forrester. In 1935 Ralph B. Bartle received the permit to operate three pumps. In 1944 Daly’s Mobil Service was advertised at the Belt Line and Excelsior Blvd., offering “Complete Mobilubrication” and vulcanizing. In 1954 the Lilac Way Mobile Service is just described as Excelsior Blvd. and Belt Line.  We’re not sure if it was here or not. This may have been the site of the Union 76 pumps at the Miracle Mile Car Wash in 1970. This is now part of the Park Nicollet campus.

5100 Excelsior, located on the north side of Excelsior, was the site of Anderson Cadillac, where two gas tanks were installed in 1953. It is now part of Park Nicollet.

3916 Vernon was the site of Beltline Shell. Located on the SW corner of the intersection of Excelsior Blvd. and Highway 100, it was right in the middle of one of the busiest and most dangerous intersections in the State. It started out as a vegetable stand in 1933, and the filling station was built in 1936 by Dr. Charles E. Cotton. By 1939 it was Weaver’s Super Service Station, who sold out in 1940 when all the outside work got to him. A 1940 ad shows a man in a hat and a younger man in a service station attendant’s uniform.  In 1944 it was Knapp’s Shell Super Service, E. E. Knapp, Prop.  It was remembered as the first modern gas station on the Boulevard, and a hangout for kids. Apparently always a Shell station, the building was demolished in 1966 to make way for the expansion of the highway. It is now an on-ramp.

3933 Wooddale, now Park Center Blvd., was the address of a Mobil station that can be traced back to at least 1935. It was part of the Lilac Way complex, located north of Excelsior Blvd. and east of Highway 100. At one time it was owned by Cliff Andreason, part owner of the Beltline Pay Dump. In 1952 it was Cort’s Super Service Mobil.  The station was removed in December 1956.

5600 Excelsior is located at the NW corner of Excelsior and Webster. In 1955 the Erickson Brothers (who went on to found Holiday) proposed to build a station there, but the neighbors complained, especially about the plan to be open 24 hours, so the request was denied. The site became the Enga Mortuary.

5608 Excelsior is located on the NE corner of Excelsior and Xenwood. It was built in 1948 and operated as a Texaco station until 1968. It was Mauer’s Imported Auto Service until 2004 when it was purchased by Kevin Kees.

Excelsior and Marion [Xenwood]: On March 15, 1933, Mrs. Johnson complained of five recent robberies at her Gasoline Service Station and petitioned for a street light at her intersection. This might be 5608, or it could have been on the south side of Excelsior, now an on-ramp.

5619 Excelsior was located at the SE corner of Excelsior and Xenwood. It was a Sinclair Station, built in 1952. It changed hands over the years, but always remained a Sinclair Station. In 1966 it was taken for highway expansion.

Yosemite had a station on every corner, but only one remains:

  • 5701 Excelsior was located at the SW corner of Excelsior and Xenwood. It was a Standard Oil station, built in 1931. The American Legion either built it or bought it soon after it was built. In the 1960s it was Gordy’s Standard Service. It was taken for the highway in 1966.
     
  • 5717 Excelsior was at the SE corner of Excelsior and Yosemite. Entrepreneurs sought to establish a meat processing plant and a drive-in restaurant at this site, but it apparently remained vacant until the American Legion built the gas station. For at least 17 years it was the Steady Mobil Service Station, operated by Millard and Don M. Steady. It remained a Mobil station until 1993, and on May 2, 1994, it opened as Batteries Plus.
     
  • 5720 Excelsior was located at the NE corner of Excelsior and Yosemite. It was a gas station as early as 1933, when it was O’Neill’s Service Station. In the 1960s it was apparently converted into an office building, but by 1965 it was back to being a Shell Station. That was torn down and the present Holiday station built in 1981.
     
  • 5800 Excelsior was located at the NW corner of Excelsior and Yosemite. It was a Pure Oil Station starting in 1947 until about 1954 when it became a tire store. It was demolished in 1969 to make way for a Pizza Hut.

5807 Excelsior was located on the south side of Excelsior between Yosemite and Brookside. It was originally a store, built by Janus Henderson for $300 in 1929. It was a commercial garage by 1931, and appears to have been more of a garage than a gas station. This building was demolished in 1955 and replaced with the current storefronts.

5825 Excelsior is located on the south side of Excelsior between Yosemite and Brookside. Before this site was the Canfield-Dietrick Lumber Yard, in about 1932, Ted Dietrick reports that it had been a car repair garage. Ted described it as a cement block building with a small office and a garage area with a pit in the floor for oil changes.

5900 Excelsior is located at the NW corner of Excelsior and Zarthan. It was the site of a gas station as early as 1948. In 1952 it was rebuilt as a Phillips “66” Station and went through many proprietors into the 1970s. In 1978 that building was gone and the present SuperAmerica was built.

5925 Excelsior is located at the SE corner of Excelsior and Brookside. This was perhaps the first real gas station in the Village. In addition to the gas station, there was an American Oil bulk gas station behind it and on the tracks, which was run by the Theis Brothers. It was built by Standard Oil in 1928 and remained a Standard Station for many years. The station was rebuilt in 1951 and again in 1986. It is one of the few remaining stations on Excelsior.

5940/6000 Excelsior was located on the “Alabama Triangle” on the north side of Excelsior between Brookside and Alabama (across from Brookside Drug). On October 15, 1925, George L. Brooks and M.B. Hagen received permission to install a Benzo Gas Co. station on the NW corner of Excelsior and Jackson (Alabama). In 1928 it was the Brookside Benzo Station.  In 1932 it may have been run by an E.W. Smith, who requested a permit to sell pop at 5950 Excelsior.  In 1933 it was the Williams Brothers Tydol Station, selling Tydol gas and Veedol Oil – and something called Parxoil-me-t-orr. In 1935, Julius Johnson ran the Tydol station, and in 1937, William Burgess ran the station, still Tydol.  In 1939 it was Mac’s Service Station.  The first building was torn down in 1944, and came back as Burgess Tydol Station.  The building was replaced again in 1951. In 1956 it was Star Gas – open all night. In ’58 you could redeem your stamp book for Cannon towels. In 1960 it was a National Certified Gas Station.  Starting in about 1964 it became a Holiday station, first called Holiday Erickson until about 1967.  It continued as a Holiday station until about 1972. The City bought the property and made it into a municipal parking lot in 1974.

6011 Excelsior is located at the SE corner of Excelsior and Alabama. The present building, built in 1963, sits on the site of three houses, next to Brookside Drug. It has variously been a Suburban Spur gas station (1967-1972), a thrift store, a Holiday station (1973-1981), and Bongiorno’s Italian Market. In 1983 it became the Print Shop, which moved from Lilac Way.

6200 Excelsior was located on the NE corner of Excelsior and Brunswick. It was first a Conoco station, built in 1952 or ’53. It faced much neighborhood opposition when owner Mark Z. Jones applied for a permit. From at least 1959 to perhaps 1976 the station was known as Sunnyside, although it changed owners and oil companies along the way. In 1976 it was known as Fas Gas. The building was demolished in 1982 to make room for the present Boulevard Professional Bldg.

50th and Brookside : The Brookside “66” Service Station and Garage, located just south of the border with Edina, was built in 1947.


GASOLINE TIMELINE

All this talk of gas stations makes one wonder about the history of… gas stations.

1890s
Before there were gas stations, automobile owners would fill their tanks at bulk depots outside of town. Gasoline (which is a byproduct of kerosene and heretofore useless) was kept in elevated drums, since gravity was the only way to get the gas out. It was poured into cans and then carefully poured into the tank with a funnel and through a filter. It took three men to carry out this activity.

1900
Gallon cans of gas were sold in town, at hardware and other stores.

1901
Gulf Oil Co. was formed – Gulf meaning the Gulf of Mexico.

1902
Texaco was established, as in Texas.

1905
Harry Grenner and Clem Laessig used a garden hose to get gas from the drum to the tank, and opened 40 outlets of their Automobile Gasoline Co. around St. Louis.

Hand pumps manufactured by Bower and Tokheim allowed tanks to be put underground for the first time.

1907
Standard Oil of California was organized and had 34 stations by 1914.

In Seattle, John McLean coined the term “filling station” with an upright tank connected to a bulk plant.

1910
Hand-cranked curbside pumps were placed in front of any business that wanted one: bicycle shops, car dealers, livery stables, hardware stores, etc.

1912
A Standard station in Columbus, Ohio claimed to be the first drive-in filling station.

1913
Gulf Oil opened its first drive-in filling station in Pittsburgh, contending for the title of first gas station.

1916
Harry Sinclair opened his first station. Dinosaurs, representing the source of oil and gasoline, identified Sinclair stations.

1920
There were about 15,000 places in the U.S. where a motorist could buy gasoline.

1923
Curbside pumps were deemed too dangerous and inconvenient, tying up traffic as the car sat in the road while refueling. Cities began to restrict them; Minneapolis required owners to post a $5,000 bond and pay a $25 license feel to operate a curbside pump. As noted below, in 1926 the operator of a curbside pump at Excelsior Blvd. and Westmoreland [Princeton] was ordered to cease operations because his station was “dangerous and a menace to public safety.”

1924
General Motors and Standard Oil of New Jersey developed the Ethyl Gasoline Corp., manufacturing the popular fuel additive.

1925
As a response to the demise of curbside pumps, operators began to buy land and throw up shacks, many of which were blights on the land. There was also a proliferation of billboards, with a corresponding movement to have them removed.

To standardize its stations, the Pure Oil Co., which had just absorbed many smaller companies, adopted a kind of English Cottage design, developed by Architect Carl August “C.A.” Petersen. Park’s Pure Oil Station apparently predated this movement, as its design did not conform. Early pictures show that it sported classic columns, a kind of Spanish-style roof, and a brick office with intricate windows.

The Minnesota legislature enacted a gasoline tax, earmarked for highway construction.

1927
Phillips Petroleum opened its first station in Wichita, Kansas in November. Phillips was part of a merger that involved Benzo Gas Motor Fuel Co.

1930
A rig in East Texas began pumping 300,000 barrels of oil per day, glutting the market that had been reduced by the Depression. Gas sold for as little as 10 cents per gallon.

1931
Standard Oil Co. of New York (Socony) merged with the Vacuum Oil Co. to create Socony-Vacuum. As its trademark, it used the flying red Pegasus later recognizable at all Mobil stations.

1933
The Veeder-Root Co. invented a “computer” pump that calculated the price automatically. This allowed vendors to sell gas by price rather than by quantity. By this time there were approximately 133,000 gas stations in the U.S.

1934
Motor oil, which had been dispensed in reusable glass bottles, began to be sold in sealed cans.

1935
William J. Moulton Oil Co. advertised Fuel Oil, but they must have delivered, since there is no address on their ad.

1937
Architect Walter Dorwin Teague designed the new Texaco station, deemed the “white box.”

1938
There was a (short-lived) movement among the chains to upgrade their restroom facilities. Texaco had “registered” restrooms, while Phillips’ bathrooms were “certified.” Phillips even had Highway Hostesses – registered nurses who travelled around inspecting the facilities and generally promoting the station.

1947
George Urich of California is credited with starting the first self-serve station, called a Gas-a-Teria. He had 18-21 pumps, and money was collected by girls on roller skates. This represented a big threat to the chains, and Urich and his employees endured threats and violence.

1955
Direct Service and Mileage service stations offered FREE Laker tickets ($1.50 value) with a $2.00 purchase of gas. Direct Service Stations were located at 4701 Excelsior Blvd. from 1949-52, and at 5050 Excelsior Blvd. from 1959-68. There was a Mileage station on Minnetonka Blvd. but not in Gasoline Alley.

1957
A Gas Station ordinance was passed by the St. Louis Park City Council.

1960s
The Texaco-type “boxes” were given roofs and converted to the next popular motif, ranch houses.

1967

Gulf stations came to the Midwest in July 1967.  Early patrons were given free metal watchband calendars.

1973
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was formed in 1960. War in the Middle East enabled OPEC to control shipments of oil to the United States, resulting in an increase in gas prices of up to 50 cents per gallon. As a result, 5 percent of the 218,000 gas stations nationwide went out of business.