It was disappointing and confusing to see that Khaled Abhari, the soon-to-be new operator of the BP Service Station at Elm and Big Bend, wants to close the service bays and put in a convenience store.
Abhari announced the plans during a recent Webster Groves City Council meeting, according to an article in the Webster-Kirkwood Times. Abhari has applied for a conditional use permit to take over operation of the station.
My first thought is what a crazy idea that is, since the station is across the street from a 24-hour Schnucks. How can a gas station compete by selling overpriced bread and milk?
However, my next reaction is that is sad it is to see any combination gas station-repair shop bite the dust. They now call the business area from the Schnucks to South Gore Avenue “The Crossroads.”
Longtime Webster Groves residents always called the three retail areas “Old Orchard” to the east, “Big Webster” in the downtown area that is now called “Old Webster,” and the area on Big Bend was “Little Webster.”
In the mid 1960s before Interstate 44 was built, there were six service stations/repair shops along Big Bend from Gray Avenue to Elm Avenue. Now there will be none.
From Gray to Elm there was Van’s Standard with one service bay. Next door was Stoudard Motors, which relocated to Old Orchard Avenue where it is still in operation under another name. Next was Lloyd Davidson’s Sinclair with three service bays. After the highway took the station, two of the mechanics opened their own station at Elm and Rose Avenue, where it now no longer sells gasoline, but still repairs cars.
After crossing the Frisco tracks at South Gore Avenue, there was Ben’s Gulf Station with two service bays. A couple doors to the east there was a Conoco station with two service bays.
Finally, at Big Bend and Elm was Walter Weir’s Mobilgas station that had an arch over the office with a lighted flying Pegasus, the winged horse that was the logo for Mobil. The Pegasus rotated 360 degrees under the arch. Weir had four service bays and a lot of business thanks to the publicity he got because he owned Indy race cars, and every Memorial Day one of his cars was in the Indiananpolis 500.
On the opposite corner from Weir’s was the Standard station (later Amoco) with two service bays. That is now the BP station that Mr. Abhair wants to turn into a mini-mart.
It just isn’t that “Little Webster” is missing service stations. In Old Webster there was the Lockwood Standard station across from Straub's and Lockwood Shell, where there is a bank now at Lockwood and Allen Street. Bill Massie’s Shell station was on Lockwood at S. Maple. Finally, on Lockwood at Plant Avenue there was the Cities Service station with four service bays. All are gone.
Even at Big Bend and South Rock Hill Road there was Dale Knight’s Shell. Knight a former minor league pitcher with the Washington Senators had four service bays at his station. He lived in a ranch house next to the station. The new Shell station at that location now sits empty.
In Old Orchard only the A.M. Clark and Sons car repair facility remains. It stopped selling Phillips 66 gasoline decades ago. Shell, Standard (then Amoco, then BP), Gulf and Mobil full service stations in Old Orchard are all gone.
It is sad, because Webster residents had many choices of where to buy gas and have their cars repaired by fellow residents. I went to school with the service station owners’ kids. Many of my friends had part-time jobs while going to college, pumping gas, cleaning windshields and changing tires. Almost half of the stations sponsored kids’ baseball teams every summer.
Now the last “service” station in the two central Webster business districts that had been home to a dozen service stations will be closing its repair bays.