March 18 2013 12:00 AM

The historic filling station in Old Town is poised to reopen as a coffee and sandwich shop

Dale Schrader. Andy Balaskovitz/City Pulse
Wednesday, June 15 — From eyesore to eye candy in two years, the renovation of the historic filling station at the corner of Grand River and Capitol avenues in Old Town is on the verge of completion.

In three to four months, Artie’s Filling Station will occupy the quaint building at 127 W. Grand River Ave., repurposed as a gourmet sandwich and coffee shop.  

Property owner Dale Schrader basked in the opportunity at a ribbon-cutting celebration this morning to provide details about his restoration: fixing the sagging overhang, installing original-looking 80-year-old clay roof tiles and barn lights, re-sanding the original oak wood ceiling and repainting — in the original font — “Sinclair Oils” on the east side window.

“My goal is to restore it to as original as possible,” Schrader said. “This belongs to the neighborhood.”

Schrader has said he spent $140,000 in renovations on the property. The Lansing Economic Development Corp. awarded him $7,500 as part of its Facade Improvement Grant Program, which requires an equal match from Schrader.

The building was built in 1925 and “was a big deal,” Schrader said, because “gas stations were fancy back then.” He added that it was “one of the very first” filling stations in Lansing. The property was the Pulver Brothers Filling Station until that closed in the 1950s. After that, a doll repair shop occupied the building until the early 1960s, Schrader said.

“It’s been boarded up for 50 years,” he said, “and I watched it decay for about 20 years. Back then I dreamed, ‘Why doesn’t someone buy that building and fix it up?’”

Schrader, 56, owns an environmental cleanup business and did just that after moving to the neighborhood in the 1980s.

Denny Frazier, a Holt resident who grew up in Old Town, delivered newspapers to the neighborhood in the 1950s.

 “This neighborhood was middle class, and almost all the kids growing up had a paper route,” he said. “I stopped coming down here after moving to Holt.”

Frazier came back just for the ribbon-cutting: “This is like dj vu all over again.”

Karl Dorsheimer, vice president of the Lansing Economic Development Corp., said he remembers driving the Grand River Avenue corridor through Old Town “10 to 15 years ago,” noticing decaying buildings like the filling station and the former Walker Building on Washington Avenue a block away, which also is undergoing renovation.

“It was in such bad shape,” he said.

Schrader’s project is significant, Dorsheimer said, because not only was it renovated, but there’s also a tenant in line.

“He (Schrader) had the guts to put his money on the line. Ultimately to have a business locate here is just fantastic,” he said.

Gary Radke, a retired builder, said he used to walk this neighborhood with his two daughters. As someone in construction, he always cringed at the old filling station, which closed in the early 1960s.

“I always thought, ‘What a shame,’” he said, wondering, “What’s beneath all that?”

Radke said Schrader is leading by example, investing his money in his own neighborhood.

“This world needs more people like Dale Schrader,” he said. “People that have the means and the heart.”