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One of Our Gas Stations Is Missing

A historic preservation effort for Coors Field goes in the tank.

The Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District is a few bricks shy of a load--and of a promise.

After the stadium district took apart a historic gas station brick by brick, it was supposed to painstakingly rebuild the structure outside Coors Field as part of a salute to the industrial heritage of the ballpark neighborhood. Instead, it lost the bricks--and the gas station along with them.

"They just kind of misplaced it," says Karle Seydel, president of Urban Options, a north downtown revitalization and development company. As a member of the now-defunct Downtown Ballpark Development Committee, Seydel hammered out an agreement with the stadium district three years ago to preserve the gas station. Now there isn't much left to save.

"They lost probably 40 percent of the brick," says Seydel. "And they never found any of the terra cotta." As a result, plans to salvage the Transport Service Station, a Depression-era pit stop and truckers' rendezvous that once sat at the corner of 20th and Blake streets, have been scrapped.

Steve Halverson, vice-president at M.A. Mortenson, the contractor hired by the stadium district to build Coors Field, denies that nearly half of the bricks from the former Standard Oil station got lost in the shuffle. "Half doesn't sound right," says Halverson. "But it wasn't a brick or two, it was more than that. It was enough to cause you to question the original plan to do that."

The original plan was drawn up four years ago by stadium-district architects. It called for the station, originally constructed by Denver businessman Jake Yoches in 1934, to be restored to its art-deco glory and used as a pedestrian gateway to Coors Field, most likely as a ticket booth or souvenir kiosk.

Yoches built his station as what he hoped would be the flagship of a chain of truck stops across the Midwest. That empire never materialized, but Yoches did make a go of the station, which doubled as a truck stop during the late 1930s thanks to a rudimentary bunkhouse the proprietor erected on his corner lot.

After Yoches died in 1958, however, the station began to run low on business. Big truck stops out on the highway wooed away long-haul drivers, and new freeways eventually allowed truckers to bypass downtown altogether. After a switch to Phillips 66 products, the station shut down in the mid-1960s; a truck-rental business moved in for a decade or so before the place was finally abandoned.

Jake Yoches's son, Marvin Yoches, told Westword four years ago that he didn't see anything so special about his dad's gas station, calling it "your basic brick building." Another son, Bob, who ran the station in the early 1950s and now lives in Las Vegas, has an equally unnostalgic view. "There were buildings older than that" in the neighborhood, he says.

But historians struck by the little building's terra-cotta detailing and 1930s ambience dubbed it a significant symbol of Denver's industrial past. The stadium district agreed to preserve the structure, which was eligible for the National Register of Historic Properties, and arranged to have the pieces put in storage while construction of the ballpark was completed.

That's where the problem started. As crews stripped paint from the building, they discovered terra cotta they hadn't known existed. They carefully cleaned and stacked the bricks, which had been photographed prior to demolition so the station could be put back together again. But apparently nobody kept track of the bricks once they'd been tucked away.

"The district stored them, I think in two different locations," says Halverson. "They had to be moved around as construction proceeded, and ultimately, to maintain security of the bricks because they were moving around so much, we said, 'Why don't we store them in our secured yard?'"

That's where what's left of the station now rests, awaiting its fate. Once the district realized a big chunk of the building was gone, says Seydel, it scrambled to find the missing links, phoning to ask if the bricks might have mistakenly gotten mixed in with the remnants of the Purox Building, another ballpark-area landmark Seydel has in storage awaiting possible reconstruction.

The district even considered spending around $115,000 to have new bricks made but decided it was too expensive. "I think for a while they tried to figure out what the hell they had done," Seydel says. "It ultimately came down to the fact that some things were lost and it would be a costly project to [complete]."

Meanwhile, the remaining bricks have been offered to Seydel and the ballpark neighborhood, which is trying to figure out what to do with them. "Basically, whenever I can, I'll find some storage area for them," Seydel says. "Maybe we can find some project to reuse those."

The stadium district did not return phone calls seeking comment.

 
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