Refining old gas stations for a post-industrial city

The former Marathon station and Jensen’s Car Care site has been turned into the restaurant Colita at 54th & Penn. File photo

Editor’s note: This is the first column in a new series about architecture throughout Southwest Minneapolis that celebrates the spirit of place through the iconic structures and hidden gems of our unique urban fabric.

The manufacturing plants and warehouses that were once central to Minneapolis’ economic growth have been converted to hip apartments, restaurants and storefronts. One of the last remnants of the city’s industrial past, the gas station, is on the same trajectory.

As vehicles become more fuel-efficient, the use of rideshare services increases and driverless cars become ubiquitous in the near future, there will be less demand for neighborhood service stations. Minneapolis’ stations are in prime locations within the community and their space requirement — a small building with substantial area for cars to maneuver — nicely translates to more pedestrian-friendly uses. We see examples of vintage stations that resemble quaint cottages (Pure Oil became Tangletown Gardens at 54th & Nicollet) right across the street from shiny mid-century boxes (Standard Oil transformed to Wise Acre Eatery).

Tangletown Gardens
The quaint cottage that once housed Pure Oil became Tangletown Gardens at 54th & Nicollet. File photo

Restaurants are a great reuse for old stations as they take advantage of existing open areas for daylight and eating alfresco. At Colita (54th & Penn) retractable glass doors transform former service bays into appealing indoor/outdoor spaces. Trellises reinvent the canopy over former gas pumps into seasonal gathering areas and urban cues (to invite people to the tables inside).

Other uses, such as offices, utilize open space for urban infill. Our architecture office (Locus Architecture at 45th & Nicollet) started out as a 1930s brick Texaco station. We renovated and expanded the original building footprint for workspace; the service bay now holds a conference room with views of a rain garden, and we replaced the rest of the asphalt with native grasses and a deck for community events like Kingfield’s recent PorchFest.

Locus Building BEFORE
Locus Architecture’s office at 45th & Nicollet started out as a 1930s brick Texaco station. Submitted photos
Locus Building After
Locus Architecture’s office after the renovation

The open space inherent in these sites invites exterior uses as well. Kitchen Space, which recently took over the old station at 58th & Lyndale, renovated the original building to lease out as a commercial kitchen, but plans for site development include raised-bed urban agriculture, gardens, outdoor event space and trellises for shading the open ground.

Uncommon Gardens
Kitchen Space renovated the old gas station at 58th & Lyndale to lease out as a commercial kitchen. File photo

With city dwellers becoming less reliant on individually owned vehicles, we are likely to see more gas station conversions, as well as other changes to spaces for parking and driving. It may not be that long before the city’s garages convert to living spaces and offices, with virtually no on-site parking on residential lots. This shift has the potential to make a more human-centric neighborhood experience for pedestrians and Minneapolitans.

Do you have a favorite gas station conversion? Let me know about it or share other noteworthy spaces in your neighborhood you’d like to read about by emailing me at [email protected].

Adam Jonas is an architect at Locus Architecture at 45th & Nicollet in Kingfield.