For nearly 100 years a service station had been a steady sentinel over the intersection of Red Arrow Highway and Boyer Road outside of Coloma. That era has come to a close as the landmark building was packed up and hauled away this week by Laraway & Sons House Moving and delivered instead to its new home at the Michigan Flywheelers Museum in South Haven.
The historic Bittner Service Station, a long time purveyor for Standard Oil, will undergo a full restoration and take up its new place in the museum’s “Old Towne,” a 1920s village filled with the businesses of yesteryear representative of those that plied their trades in that era.
The service station was a Standard Oil branded facility from 1922 until 1966. It was originally built by Otto J. Bittner according to family historians who say he built the station by buying lumber on credit, paying it off and then purchasing more until the building was complete. Bittner also erected a home nearby and he and his wife, Florence, moved into that home in June of 1923.
When the full-service station first opened for business, it featured one pump for kerosene to light lamps and stoves, and one for gasoline for early vehicles. Over the years the building underwent several renovation periods. In fact, in 1930 the garage was moved back 53 feet from the center of Red Arrow Highway in preparation for the widening of that stretch of the road. The highway was later re-designated as U.S. 12. When the move was made, a new canopy was added to protects customers from sun and storms. Inside, a complete line of auto accessories, soft drinks, gum, candy, cigarettes and chewing tobacco were offered up for sale.
A roadside fruit stand was also added to the site in 1932.
The records reflect that Mr. Bittner elected to take a short break from the business in March of 1948 by renting the station to Louis Thurston and Gene DeField. For some undocumented reason, their gentlemen’s agreement failed and within a year Otto had bought out their inventory and resumed operation of the gas station.
A year after nearby Interstate-94 took a bow, the handwriting was on the wall, and in 1966 the station met its demise, since a good measure of traffic had been diverted to that new super highway. While Otto kept the station operating part-time for a while, they finally closed up shop for the final time after 44 years of service. That was a long enough tour of duty that Bittner was honored by Standard Oil Company as their longest running dealer in the entire region up to that point.
The station wasn’t empty for long, however, as Bittner’s son, Lyman, opened back up four years later in 1970 in order to establish a small engine repair business there. As a youngster, he had worked for many years at the station part-time, alongside his father repairing Model Ts. When he opened it back up, there were still Model T spark plugs, fan belts and other parts on the shelves, just as his father had left them.
In a 1999 article in the Tri-City Record written by Lyman’s wife Ethel Bittner, he was quoted as saying that, at age 74, it was “time to let go.” He did so with mixed emotions realizing that for the first time in 76 years the building would no longer be a part of the Bittner family. A short time later the building was sold to David & Shelly Stankiewicz.
Since that time, the building has largely served as a storage shed, and like many buildings its age, continued to deteriorate. The Stankewicz family, being members of the Michigan Flywheelers Museum, want to preserve the building’s history and elected to donate the building to the non-profit organization.
As a part of the museum’s “Old Towne” streetscape, the restored service station will join other educational displays like the Over the Hill Blacksmith Shop, Farm History Building, Abbert & Sons Farm Machinery Repair and Old Tyme Jail.
Museum President Pat Ingalls says, “We hope to restore it as close to the original building as possible, but the office part of the station was in pretty bad shape.” Ingalls adds, “As we were getting it ready for the move, the roof collapsed over the office portion. At this point, we’re going to discuss rebuilding that part of the station and use as much of the original wood, like the siding, that we can.”
At the request of the Stankiewicz family, the renovated historical building in “Old Towne” will be renamed “Stank’s Station.” Stay tuned for completion of the project.
In the provided photo accompanying this story on Moody on the Market.com, Laraway & Sons move the historic Standard Oil station building to its new home at the Michigan Flywheelers Museum.