Felix Vallejo of Moline is especially proud of his spruced-up historic neighbor.
The friendly 67-year-old, a longtime resident of the Floreciente neighborhood, got to see his father honored this week as part of the historic trolley tours that stopped at the former Skelly Service Station, 820 5th Ave. Felix and his wife Mary bought the property in 2018, and have lived across the street for over 40 years (where he still is at 501 8th St.).
He’d known it as a depressed building, used for storage for the former owners’ rental properties, and was vacant all the time the Vallejos lived across the street.
“I had just retired; I thought the price was right,” Felix said Thursday, noting he had worked 28 years for Alcoa (now Arconic), after 15 years for John Deere.
“I remember it being an antique store,” Vallejo said. “It was a lot of work.”
After purchase, he and his daughter Ursula did research up the street at the Rock Island County Historical Society and found that the old gas station was a Tudor Revival 1932 Skelly station — one of the oldest, if not the oldest in the city. It had operated until the 1950s.
“Seeing how historic gas stations were a big part of the highway and transportation industry, we felt it had to be preserved,” Vallejo said. “You will notice oil companies built gas stations like houses, so they would not get push back from neighbors. You can see the comparison to my house.”
The old station sits near the Butterworth and Deere-Wiman mansions (on 8th Street and 11th Avenue) and it “most likely served those titans of industry which, as we know, shaped Moline,” said the nomination for city landmark designation.
The popular Tudor residential look of the building was “naturally translated into gas stations designed to blend in with the surrounding neighborhoods,” the nomination said.
The station helped to create dominant American driving culture and the property “is one of the few remaining gas stations portraying design aesthetics from the high style age of service stations,” the nomination says.
After serving as a gas station, the building was home to A-1 Heating and Filter Service, Coyna’s Auto Repair, Junior Achievement and an antique shop. It was used for storage between 1977 and 2017.
The city landmark nomination says that the station “possesses historical integrity of facade design, showcasing craftsmanship of the 1930s and because of its location, will serve as a significant contributor to Moline local landmark destinations.”
The city (which approved landmark status) also said there is “strong potential for adaptive reuse of this unique historic structure in the Floreciente neighborhood.”
A mural and total facelift
With the help of many volunteers and organizations — including the John Deere Foundation and Habitat for Humanity — the Vallejo family completed a major renovation of the station (inside and out) over the past four years. Part of the renovations were to install heating, air conditioning, electricity, and plumbing. New lighting fixtures were added inside, including a ceiling fan with lights.
The outside Floreciente mural — which has a flower and family theme — continued a partnership with Global Communities, funded with a grant from the John Deere Foundation.
It started with a Sarah Robb-led mural painted in the parking lot of the Boys and Girls Club of the Mississippi Valley offices at 338 6th St., Moline, as part of Global Communities’ three-year campaign to strengthen and enrich the Floreciente neighborhood.
The brightly colored Skelly mural is on the retaining wall of the former station, completed in 2018 by Robb and many others.
Nearby John Deere Seeding Group employees, during a temporary shutdown, helped paint and renovate the station itself. “It really started snowballing, and people were more supportive than I ever imagined,” Vallejo said Thursday.
Renovations included adding stucco to reinforce the exterior, a new roof, repainting the red highlights, putting Skelly logos outside, and a total overhaul to the former service shop inside, which now has the stylish flair of a retro coffee shop, with Skelly and antique car memorabilia. The Purington bricks (from Galesburg) were restored and re-laid on the inside floor.
Several wood carvings from Jamaica that Vallejo has collected are displayed in the room.
Vallejo found an old Skelly gas pump from 1952 in Peoria, which stands outside. It reads the price of gas at 46 cents per gallon. “Having the old pump out there, it’s going to attract a lot of old car enthusiasts,” he said, of which he is one.
All the time he lived there before 2018, he never knew the building history. “I never dreamed that it would become what it is,” Vallejo said.
Remembering a war hero
A sign over the entrance is “Mac’s Skelly Service,” in honor of Vallejo’s father Macario (or Mac), a World War II veteran who earned a Bronze Star for escaping the Leopoldville transport ship in 1944.
Macario was one of the characters (played by David Casas) featured in this week’s historic trolley tours, in honor of Moline’s 150th anniversary of being incorporated as a city.
On Christmas Eve 1944, while sailing between Southampton and Cherbourg, the Leopoldville was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-486, killing nearly 800 U.S. soldiers. There is a display inside the Skelly station honoring the service of Mac and his brother Pete Vallejo, who died of malaria in 1942 in the Panama Canal.
The station was recommended to become a city landmark in June by the Moline Historic Preservation Commission, and Felix plans to apply for the National Register of Historic Places.
Vallejo said if he’s home, he’d be more than happy to let people into the station for a tour. It doesn’t have regular hours for the public. The flowers and concrete out front are new, and those involved held a ceremony Aug. 20, 2022 to celebrate the station becoming a landmark.
It’s the first city landmark in the mostly Hispanic Floreciente neighborhood, Vallejo said. “There are a lot of nicer buildings, that started Moline,” he said
Skelly Oil’s roots go back to 1919. In 1977, Skelly Oil merged into Getty Oil and the Skelly stations and products were rebranded with the Getty brand, which subsequently was rebranded to Texaco by Texaco’s takeover of Getty in 1984.
The Skelly brand logo re-emerged in 2012 when Nimmons-Joliet Development Corp. acquired the nationally recognized Skelly logo.
Another Skelly station in Rock Island
There also is a former Skelly station in Rock Island, at 3801 14th Ave., which opened in 1945, last used as A & M Automotive.
The Skelly Service Station, although founded in 1945, was a throwback in design to the themed stations of the 1930s, according to the city website.
Tudor Revival residential structures were popular throughout the 1930s, so it is to be expected that popular residential designs would be translated to small commercial enterprises. Tudor Revival design was a corporate brand for Skelly, as variations of this style were found as service stations throughout the country.
The local Skelly franchise was opened in 1945 by Sam P. Christopher. It was purchased by 1949 by Earl Showalter. Because of the difficulty patrons had in accessing the station off 38th Street, he had plans for expansion to the east, but they did not come to fruition.
The Skelly Service Station hired many students from the nearby Augustana Seminary to work the gas pumps. Showalter operated the station until he passed away in 1968.
See more photos of the Moline landmark below.