De-Britt: The abandoned gas station on MLK Boulevard is about to become a wreck again

The Pride gas station at 7805 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in southeast Washington opened around 1915. It remains an important Washington landmark. The owner managed it for years before the 1969 opening of the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Family Health Center.

Plans to tear it down came and went. Built on top of the abandoned portion of a gas station and eventually converted into an office building, it failed in 2008. It stayed vacant until 2010. It sat vacant ever since.

Today, the building has been abandoned, its windows boarded up and its structure in disrepair. In March, The Washington Post submitted an application for a demolition permit.

Less than three months later, the city denied the permit. Washington’s landmarks department noted in its denial letter that the building is significant because of its historic value, the present condition of its exterior, and the fact that the site is likely to be altered for development.

That does not mean the site is not slated for redevelopment, said Doris Marshall, the city’s official liaison to the preservation of historic and architectural features. But demolition of any property classified as a historic landmark – such as the corner of MLK Boulevard and Quincy Street in the George Washington University neighborhood where a federal building lies empty–remains a possibility.

A DDOT spokesperson said that the department understands and respects the site’s historic significance.

“We’re actively working to identify a way to move forward to revitalize the block. An initial plan is expected to be shared with the public by the end of the year,” she said.

The location is not getting too far from service, said Sara Dwyer, a Baltimore-based historian and author of the book “Branding the Inner City: Imagining a Future for the Historic Neighborhoods of Baltimore.”

“When it opens, the people who will have been using it, such as truck drivers, will want another tank at some point,” she said.

Filling up at a gas station is the next step in true change, said Dwyer, because we need to talk about urban gas stations and how they fit into the fabric of city life.

“This type of facility needs to be replaced with more like self-serve stores,” she said.

Before flushing away its historical significance, the city might want to consider reversing the decades-long trend of neglecting and demolishing historic landmarks. In the meantime, the low gas station may remain an eyesore, instead of a potential catalyst for renewal.

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