A building full of memories | SteamboatToday.com

A building full of memories

The old Texaco station no longer stands except in the minds and hearts of a few

Danie Harrelson

— Mark Williams can recall watching 15-cent movies on Saturday afternoons when it was turned into a makeshift theater.

Lila Rider remembers kicking up her heels on its dance floor.

Ernie Labombi can spin yarns about living there.

Ask longtime residents of South Routt about the weathered Texaco station that was recently torn down in Phippsburg and they will say that the old building held a lot of memories within its walls.

“There’s no telling what all it was used for,” Phippsburg resident Lila Rider said. “It seems like everything comes to mind.”

Rider, 74, and her brother Mark Williams, 78, moved to Phippsburg in 1936.

By that time, the building had already seen much of its prime.

The coming of the railroad

The building was constructed in 1909 after the Denver Northwest and Pacific Railroad company purchased the land that is now Phippsburg from homesteaders in the area, local historian Paul Bonnifield said.

It was used as the company store, where workers could buy most anything they needed.

“It was definitely the heart of the railroad town,” Bonnifield said.

The Wilson family sold the land to the railroad on the condition that no alcohol would ever be sold on the premises but longtime residents admit that, for at least a few years, the company store was the first and only place where alcohol was ever sold.

As coalminers and railroad workers filed in to begin building the company town, they often took some liberties with their choice of drink.

By 1912, the railroad company fell on hard times and the town passed through several more hands before the land was finally sold around 1920.

When the railroad companies moved on, they left the store to the town, and people began to settle in Phippsburg.

A building for all seasons

The building became a dance hall where people in town and nearby areas could come and kick up their heels in the summer, Rider said.

“Phippsburg had the only stockyard, so the dancehall was the only place for cowboys to dust off their craws,” Williams added.

Local talent would sing and a dance band would come through occasionally.

“It wasn’t anything fancy, ” Williams said, “just some nice country to two-step to.”

The Phippsburg school later turned the building into a gymnasium so students could play inside during the winter.

In the summer, people from out of town would set up projectors and sell 15 and 20-cent tickets to watch their movies, Williams said.

A few locals recall a bowling alley inside the building but exactly when attempts at strikes were made has become muddled in memories.

A place to call home

Ernie Lombardi, 75, now resides in Oak Creek, but he lived in the old building from about 1939 to 1945.

He and his family used the living quarters in the back of the building.

The front part of the building became a place for Lombardi and his siblings to play.

It was a large, open space where hay was stored, he said.

Williams, whose family lived in a log house just two doors down, remembers coming over to play.

“It was the only place we could run around in when it was cold outside,” Williams said.

The small living quarters later served as a little restaurant for Rider and her sister, Delilah.

They called their cafe the

Java Cup.

A man and his garage

Ru Emert was the last homesteader in Routt County in the 1950s. After he bought the building, he turned it into to a garage and the Texaco station that so many people remember today.

“If you happened to come when Ru was watching a game, you could be sitting there all day at the garage waiting for him to help you,” Williams said.

Louise Iacovetto, 76, remembers Emert as a passive man who never ventured very far from his business.

Iacovetto’s husband, Ray, became the town postmaster in 1949 and they have run the post office since then. Emert’s garage was only a short walk away.

As with other ventures in the old building, Emert’s garage was never very successful, Iacovetto said. Emert lived in the building’s back apartment until he passed away in the early 1980s.

A building with no use

A local family used the building for storage after Emert’s death. Some effort was made to turn the building into a museum, but it never materialized, Iacavetto said.

“Phippsburg was always a very small town and this building never really took off as a business that you could make a living at,” she added.

Texaco eventually took out the old gas pumps, leaving the station to fall into disrepair.

“A time or two it served a purpose, but for practical purposes it was mostly an empty store,” Ruby Lou Peters, 69, said.

Iacovetto and Peters agreed that the building’s recent demise was timely.

“It went the way of anything old and deteriorating,” Peters said. “It was time for it to go.”

Tearing it down

Pauline Breyare said she has an interest in old buildings.

She likes to tear them down.

Breyare purchased the old Texaco building last year in order to build something new in its place.

“Maybe you could call me ‘that lady who tears down old buildings,'” Breyare said. “I’ve torn down four old buildings in Phippsburg.”

The Phippsburg resident quickly learned that this building held sentimental value to many of her neighbors.

“I couldn’t believe the number of people who stopped by just to take one more walk through the building,” Breyare said. “They wanted to see it one more time before it vanished.”

The new storage facility that Breyare had built now stands in the old building’s place and can be clearly seen from the highway.

It stands four feet higher than the sagging Texaco station stood.

“That old station was falling into the ground,” Breyare said.

Her new venture already shows signs of business.

The outside walls have been primed and Breyare only needs to add a coat of paint.

She thought about painting her business white like the original structure but recently decided against it.

“I don’t want it to stick out too much,” she said.

Breyare said she has heard only support for the town’s new addition.

“They don’t begrudge me for tearing down something that was so important to them,” she said.

The old Texaco station is long gone, but longtime residents will still be talking about the imprint it left on Phippsburg for many years.

“It’s just another piece of our town that was ready to be torn down,” Rider said. “It’s gone but it left a lot of memories in our hearts.”

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