I’m an architect, so people always ask me what my favorite building is. That’s akin to asking a parent who their favorite child is. (Confession, for me it’s my daughter Micaela. But then again, she’s an only child.) But there are a few buildings that I absolutely love, and one is here in Plymouth. It’s an unassuming building and, even though I’m a lover of Plymouth’s early history, it’s not very old.
It’s not even a residential building. It’s a (former) gas station.
The building in question – home to Steve’s Auto – is located at 104 Sandwich St. and dates from the 1920s. It sits in an area – along Sandwich from roughly Lincoln Street to Stephens Street – once known as Gasoline Alley because at one time it was “all things automotive.”
The history of the area is still visible in the buildings that dominate that section of Sandwich Street. Let’s take a quick tour of the neighborhood.
Two gas stations once anchored the opposite corners of Sandwich Street at Lincoln and South Street. A vintage station from the 1920’s – I have vague memories of it as a Texaco station –once sat at one corner. The building is long gone but the gas pumps remain. On the opposite corner, a station was erected in the 1940s. In this instance, the gas pumps are gone but the original station – heavily remodeled – exists. A clue to the building’s original purpose can still be seen in the back. Two concrete stanchions that once defined the building poke out of the rear shingled walls.
Another station lives at 113 Sandwich St. Remodeled only a few years ago and the site of Hertz outlet, this building harkened back to the ‘30s. The pumps have long disappeared, but it survives as an auto related business. Yet another station can be found at 118 Sandwich Street. It too is missing its gas pumps and lives on as an auto repair business.
Other auto related businesses were present on that stretch of Sandwich. Two of the most prominent buildings housed auto dealerships with service departments. The first was located at what is now a Cape Auto building. Current owner David Gallerani told me it was an Oldsmobile dealership. Diagonally across the street, in the location of the current fire station, sat another dealership. The Plymouth Auto Sales building was a beautifully proportioned brick building from the 1900’s and housed a Ford dealership.
In time, this building was replaced for another transportation mode: the Plymouth and Brockton bus terminal. For many years, the terminal served Plymouth well. I remember taking a bus here to Boston. The terminal remained at this location until it was given the chance to move closer to Route 3, in the industrial park. At the same time the central fire station in downtown Plymouth had long outlived its purpose as a functional fire house. Seizing on the opportunity the town was able to secure the land for the new central fire station. Station One was erected on the lot in 1978.
Plymouth & Brockton had good reasons to locate its new bus terminal at the Sandwich Street. location. Across the street and behind what is now the Cape Auto offices were the original trolley barns and repair shops that once served P&B’s historic trolley operations. Both of these buildings are still standing and are remarkable feats of engineering for their day. The sight of trolleys pulling in and out of this location must have been a sight to see.
Rounding out the collection of buildings on Gasoline Alley was a Pepsi Bottling works. Originally constructed as a woodworking mill, the bottling works were located in the open field at the bottom of Stephens Street. That lot also housed a gas station before the County Auto building was constructed. (The field is open because of the contaminated soils left from the building removal.)
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one last icon of Gasoline Alley before turning my attention to my favorite. Firmly planted in a row of two identical residential buildings from the 1890s is a small one-story addition on the house next to the fire station. This is the famed location of Tavernelli’s. Originally built as a small retail operation, the building evolved into a small bar serving pizza. The pizza was legendary, perhaps because it was only made infrequently. Among the regrets in my life is having missed out on this!
All that said, I think 104 Sandwich St. is the star in this lineup. I’m not sure when I actually noticed the building, but when I did, I marveled at it. It is an intact architectural gem that remains virtually unchanged since the day it was built.
A rare survivor, the gas canopy still exists in its original form. The pumps are gone and the height of the canopy would not meet the current code, but the proportions are perfect. The canopy is attached to a 300 square foot brick service/office building. The front facade is flanked by symmetrical doors with full height windows infilling the front. The doors and windows are topped by the original transoms. On the gable ends are beautiful full height windows that are also topped by transoms and set in a brick arch. A round medallion (or possibly a blocked off window) tops the brick arch.
A low-pitched roof with exposed rafter tails completes the jewel box. Adjacent to the station is a two-bay service garage added after the station was built. The garage is brick with garage doors with glass that mimic the main station. It’s nicely proportioned and compliments the station.
I often had dreams of buying this property and locating my offices there. Or perhaps after retirement I could run a coffee shop there. It would remind me of the cafe in Key West that currently resides in a station of the same vintage. The possibilities are endless. I hope it lives as long as possible as an auto repair shop, but when the time comes for its next life I hope I can be part of the project to preserve the legacy.
Architect Bill Fornaciari, a lifelong resident of Plymouth, is the owner of BF Architects in Plymouth. His firm specializes in residential work and historic preservation. Have a question or idea for this column? Email Bill at email@example.com.
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