Sue Mix remembers what the Port Huron Sinclair gas station on Lyon Street was like in the 1950s when her dad managed it.
She remembers jumping on the gas pump bells to her dad’s dismay, the Coca-Cola chest full of pop and icy cold water she loved to put her hands in, and her father’s red service truck that she sometimes rode in.
And now someone is bringing new life to another former gas station in the city.
“The dino project is what I call it,” said T.J. Gaffney, the Port Huron resident working on a “resto-mod” of the building.
Gaffney wanted a glimpse into a different time when gas stations were operated by blue-collar folks just trying to make theirs’ and other peoples’ lives a little better. Mix shared photos of her father’s gas station and her memories with him of these once small but vital elements of the economy, he said.
Gaffney has been working on the former gas station and dry cleaners at 1402 Lapper Ave. since late May of 2018, when he started pulling the façade off. The siding had been covering the building for the better part of 50 to 60 years.
“No one knew what was behind the façade here,” he said.
Gaffney owns Streamline Historic Services LLC, which does corporate histories, historic research, property background research, historic project management and more.
In the past he has operated the business out of his car and home, but he wanted a place to work that would reflect what he does and help the community, restore a part of Port Huron other than downtown and other popular renovated areas.
“I felt as though some of the other neighborhoods in Port Huron were being neglected in that rebirth period,” Gaffney said.
He’s not turning the building back into a gas station but is reflecting and honoring the building’s past, he said.
There will be office space, a place to meet with clients and general meeting space. The garage in the back of the building will be a workshop, potential salvage materials will be shown in the former auto bay and it will be part warehouse, part sales room.
There are currently false garage doors, canvas material with a digital print on it. One side is a 1932 Ford and the other is a 1960 Chevrolet pickup truck..
The latest project has been the replica signage on the exterior. Gaffney had been working towards starting interior work when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and for a variety of reasons he decided to hold off on that work.
He is working on getting an original Sinclair sign pole and would like to get the famous Sinclair dinosaur to go on the property.
His goal is to open toward the end of 2021, but it depends on time and money. Right now, not including the property’s purchase cost, this is probably a $30,000 to $35,000 project, Gaffney said.
It’s a tough time, but this project is reflective that you can do a whole lot with a little if you’re willing to look outside the box, he said.
“I chose to look at it from the perspective it can enhance what you already have,” he said.
As the station has progressed, several older cars have gotten their photos there and Gaffney has been blown away by the community response. Several people remember going to the station as a kid, filling their bike tires or grabbing a Coke there.
“They really were, for a period of time, a central meeting point for the neighborhood,” he said.
One man who has memories of the building is Port Huron resident Todd Carmody, who grew up about a half mile away when it was a dry cleaner.
“I grew up near there and for 48 years I had no idea that a gas station was once on that corner, to me it was always Van Kuren Cleaners,” he said in a written message.
Carmody was happy when he saw Gaffney was working on the building. He’s always liked how he appreciates history and knew Gaffney would make the place better. This project could help revitalize the neighborhood, be a popular place for classic car cruisers or encourage fixing other buildings in the area.
“He’s pretty much already brought the gas station back to life,” he said. “As far as the neighborhood, it’s just really nice to see the neighborhood getting the attention that it hasn’t had in a long time, it’s a great neighborhood with many single-family homes.”
And Mix, who currently lives in Florida, has all good memories of the other former gas station on Lyon Street, she said in a message.
Her father, John “Chet” Belanger, moved his family to Port Huron around 1945, with Mix born in 1948. Her father used to work at the station seven days a week until closing. When she was 10 the family moved to a farm in the Fort Gratiot area and didn’t spend much time there after that, she said.
“I am eager to see T.J.’s end result,” she said. “It is the reverse of my dad’s station, but still love seeing it.”
This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: Port Huron man bringing new life to former gas station, calls it ‘the dino project’