Jan 162011

RANCHO CUCAMONGA – There were many reasons why Ed Dietl founded the Historical Preservation Association of Rancho Cucamonga in 2005.

But his main motive is to save the abandoned gas station on Foothill Boulevard west of Archibald Avenue, which in its heyday, served the migrants who left behind the Dust Bowl in hopes of a brighter future.

Dietl recently stood in front of the Mission-styled structure and weighed the future of the old gas station.

“I’m really kind of sad about it,” he said. “I sure would like to see this place saved.”

Dietl and many others invested in the preservation of Route 66 have been dealt a major blow. During the recent storms, the back building that once served as a service garage

Dietl, with the Historical Preservation Association, wants to preserve the old Cucamonga Service Station along Foothill Boulevard in Rancho Cucamonga as a possible Route 66 museum. But the property is owned by Lamar Advertising, which has requested permission from the city to demolish the rain-damaged structure. The sheet metal roof couldn’t hold the rainwater and collapsed.
“I’m really disappointed that this happened but I’m still excited about the opportunity to save it,” Dietl said.

The gas station, characterized by its signature square columns in front of the garage, was not damaged.

Planning Director James Troyer said with two walls of the service garage still standing, it’s possible to save the building.

The property is owned by Lamar Advertising, which also owns the two adjacent billboards at the intersection. The billboard company recently requested permission from the city to demolish the rain-damaged structure. The city is expected to make a decision this week.

Two years ago, the city gave the Cucamonga Service Station, also known as the Richfield Gas Station, historic landmark status. The move was opposed by Lamar Advertising because such a designation lowered the property’s value.

With the historic status in place, the property owner now must gain the city’s permission before tearing it down.

Dietl wants to buy the building. He wants the property and its neighboring lot on the west side be developed into a Route 66 attraction – with a local history museum, gift shop and a place where classic car enthusiasts can visit and have their pictures taken.

Through the years, Lamar Advertising has listed the price from as high as $600,000 to as low as $125,000, Dietl said. But the historical group doesn’t have the funds to purchase the property or fix up a structure that doesn’t have electricity or water.

Deputy City Manager Linda Daniels said the city is in negotiations with Lamar about acquiring the property.

“We’re interested in both the property and the building,” Daniels said.

These are shaky times for local fans of the nation’s famed highway.

Earlier this month, a Route 66 memorabilia store housed in an 110-year-old building, closed because of an unforgiving economy.

Jim Conkle, founder of the Route 66 Preservation Foundation, said Foothill Boulevard stalwarts Magic Lamp and Sycamore Inn are fine additions to the historic thoroughfare but aren’t enough to draw tourists.

“That can’t happen with a restaurant or two. We need the gas station,” Conkle said.

The recently damaged garage was built in 1910, according to Dietl, and was moved back when the road was widened in 1914. That was the year when the gas station with an island of gas pumps framed by arches was built.

It served as a pit stop for travelers on the Chicago to Los Angeles route and was later a hub of old Cucamonga. It was a gas station in the midst of vineyards.

The station closed in the mid-1970s and served as various small shops until the 1980s. At that point, the once bustling station became a victim of neglect, weather and vandalism. Those three factors were damaging.

“One alone is severe, but when you add all of that, the place deteriorated to where most people look at it as blight, but there’s so much potential,” Conkle said.

For the Route 66 Preservation Foundation, saving the former gas station is one of five priorities for the Mother Road.

“We’re not trying to bring back outhouses and un-air conditioned cars. We’re trying to bring back something that exists nowhere else on the road,” Conkle said. “Rancho Cucamonga is sitting on a gold mine, and they don’t realize it.”

For more information, visit www.route66sos.org

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