Most Long Islanders, especially those who live on the North Shore, spend a lot of time on the Northern State Parkway.
Have you ever noticed the boarded up building on the parkway in Dix Hills, between the Commack Road and Deer Park Avenue exits?
It’s actually a designated historic landmark in the Town of Huntington, a somewhat controversial decision that came about right as the Department of Transportation slated it for demolition. So just what about this old gas station makes it so important—it’s a symbol of the suburbanization of this area, and it is a part of Robert Moses’ vision for what the parkway was meant to be.
This service station was once one of many service stations that dotted all of the parkways in the New York Metropolitan area. The Huntington Historic Preservation Commission described it as, “an intact example of the Robert Moses type of English cottage style public works architecture…the service station has design features common to English cottage houses such as slate roofs, and exterior stone walls with the slate roof having a pitch overhanging the stone walls….” There were 2 wings—one for lavatories, and one for gas station attendants.
It was built between 1951 and 1953 as part of the extension of the parkway into Suffolk County. Engineers for the NYS Department of Public Woks named Parsons, Brinkerhoff, Hogan and McDonald built it for the Long Island Parks Commission. It was one of two built on the parkway, (only eight built on Long Island), and the second one, located in Westbury east of the Glen Cove Road exit, was demolished during a parkway widening project.
Robert Moses had intended for the parkway system not just to connect you to the parks on Long Island, but also to be “park- like” in design. The on-road service station is an example of his desire to keep the drive as pleasant and relaxing as possible.
On June 1, 1986 Newsday published an article stating that: “The squat, stone station between the east and westbound lanes of the Northern State Parkway has been abandoned for more than a year. Its windows and doors are boarded up, and the holes where gas pumps once stood are now filled with trash. By early next year the state will tear down the building…”
The article explained that the stations were built at a time when Long Island was still very rural, gas stations were few, and cars were slow. The access ramps were to short to handle the 55 mph traffic, and in modern times gas stations were plentiful. In the fall of 1986, SPLIA listed the gas station on its list of Endangered Properties. (Also on that list was the Aluminaire House)
Then, on Feb. 24, 1987, the Huntington Historic Preservation Commission sent a memo to the Huntington Town Board requesting a public hearing for the possible designation of the Northern State Parkway gas station as an individual historic landmark. The issue was put off until a full report could be done on the property.
The Preservation Commission submitted that report on Jan. 5, 1988. The report discusses the layout of the station and discusses the parkway’s role and significance to Long Island history. It describes the parkway system as, “a social, cultural, and architectural document…” It concludes that, “the gas station, and the parkway in which it lies, are functionally, architecturally, and aesthetically a unified part of the ‘park’ concept planned and executed under Robert Moses’ direction…”
On Feb. 23, 1988 the NYS Department of Transportation sent a letter to the Huntington Town Board upon hearing that designation was under consideration. The letter explains that in 1985 an in-depth evaluation of the LI parkway system and its gas stations was undertaken, and neither the Northern State Parkway nor the gas station was deemed worthy of historic status.
The public hearing to determine designation was finally scheduled for May 3, 1989. The designation passed with 4 ayes, and only one nay. The following month, June 5, the Department of Transportation announced via a telephone call to the Town Attorney’s office that they had no plans to tear down the building currently, and asked the Preservation Commission for suggestions for it’s use.
A letter from the Department of Transportation dated June 6, was not so optimistic, and instead stated, “Out plans for this station are uncertain at this time… We have no current plans to reopen any of the service stations. Due to vandalism and other problems, we are considering the demolition of many of the buildings.” It is important to note, that because the station is state-owned, the local designation does nothing to prevent demolition of the structure.
After the designation the Historic Preservation Commission sent a letter to the NYS Department of Transportation suggesting the building be used as a tourist information center or be reopened as a gas station. In response to its concerns about safety, the commission recommended that the entrance/exit ramps be extended to allow for more time to slow time coming out of the fast lane.
As you can see today, the station was never adapted for re-use, or reopened for its intended use. But it was also never demolished and so the hope that might be reopened lives on.
The importance of the station is not about its age or its architect. The importance of the structure lies in everything it symbolized--- the new car culture that was emerging in the 1950s, the idea of recreational travel, and the opening up of Long Island for development and the spread of the suburbs.