The Gas Station on 9W

Caught in the Twilight: a fascinating history and a question about the future

Mention the gas station on Route 9W to people in the vicinity and you are sure to get a smile and a fond story. Like the woman who said that during the gas crisis in the 1970’s, the owner, Henry Kennell, would open the gas pumps privately for her ailing mother to ensure she had enough gas to make the frequent trips to her doctor. Or the man who was thrilled to meet Drew Barrymore when it was the set for the movie “Riding in Cars with Boys.” Or how in the 1960’s, Palisades children loved to walk to the gas station for candy, soda and rocket pops. And what about the stolen Indian Motorcycle sign? Was it ever found? No, it never was!

I fell in love with the station even before I lived here. My husband and young daughters would come up to Rockland from Manhattan on weekends looking at houses and we loved to stop for a falafel sandwich and a coke at the “Oasis” and eat at a picnic table while looking out at the miniature golf. The gas station obviously isn’t the reason we moved here, but it absolutely added to the charm and magic of this area. Years later, still in love with the station, after opening the Nyack Farmers’ Market I tried to set up a farmers’ market there but the property wasn’t available for this use.

The gas station was built and opened for business in 1939. Although the first American gas station was built in 1909 in California, it wasn’t until the 1930’s that there was a gas station boom across the United States. In 1939, there were only four cars in Palisades, but a number of factors necessitated the need for a gas station in rural Palisades, NY.

Route 9W was built and completed between the years of 1927 and 1929 making it a major thoroughfare for anyone traveling north from New Jersey. • The opening of the George Washington Bridge in 1931 increased the traffic going north on Route 9W. • Construction of the Palisades Interstate Parkway began in 1950. In 1957, the section from the GW Bridge to Alpine, NJ was completed. In 1958, the section into NYS to Exit 9 was completed. So, until 1958, anyone traveling north through New York State had to travel along Route 9W. • For twenty years, from 1939-1958, this little gas station was an important link in the chain of the development of NYS road system and highways. It provided a valuable service to the increased volume of motorists traveling north. • The gas station was the first stop on Route 9W in New York State giving travelers their first experience and impression of New York State.

Today, there are no gas stations from this period remaining in Rockland County. It is unknown if any with this character and age even exist in New York State. Stations of this style were immortalized as a part ofAmericana by Nyack artist Edward Hopper, specifically in his famous 1940 painting entitled “Gas.” Although “Gas” was painted on Cape Cod, the similarity to our station is remarkable. Echoing the many reviews of this painting, Masterpiece Painting Gallery states, “Many viewers of Hopper’s ‘Gas’ are convinced it is about the struggle between commercial development aka ‘civilization’ and nature. It seems set in a twilight zone halfway between where the world lost its innocence and where we destroy ourselves with ‘development’ and high tech ‘improvements’ to make life ‘better’.”

Since 1939, it has been a community focal point. In the early days, it was a place where Mr. Kennell, the owner, would hold court at the gas pumps sharing stories over a bottle of soda. The Kennells also sold fruits, vegetables and flowers from their gardens and orchard across the street along with Mrs. Kennell’s homemade pies.

In the late 1980’s, regulations of gas stations changed. Unable to afford the up-grades, the gas station stopped pumping gas. After the passing of Mr. Kennell, his son Hank took over the property. To continue as a viable business, it was used for other endeavors. Throughout the 1990’s, a popular lunch and snack shop, “The Oasis,” prepared and sold burgers, falafels and other middle-eastern food specialties. Artists have been inspired to paint the gas station and movies have been shot there. (In June, it was transformed into the set of “A Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing” starring Sarah Michelle Geller, Alec Baldwin and Richard Dreyfuss.) But over the years, the site has become derelict and unsightly. At one point, it became a lot for antique and junk cars. For years and even today, illegal dumping on the site has made this gem an eyesore.

After years of planning and dreaming, two years ago, Danny Foti, Lisa Rinehart and I began a process to purchase the gas station with the plan to turn it into a food shop/farm stand called “The Station,” that would sell wholesome soups, salads, sandwiches, breads, pastries, smoothies, crepes, coffee, tea and locally grown produce. Our primary goal was to retain the gas station's rural feel (gravel and all), preserve this 1939 landmark building, give it new life as a food business celebrating Hudson Valley produce and make it a positive service to the community. We wanted to make it the pride of Palisades. We appreciated the community’s interest and support for this project.

However, at the end of April, with heavy hearts, we ended our contract to purchase the gas station. After over eighteen months of persistent effort addressing the multitude of environmental, zoning and code issues, we were only half way through the process. Our purchase of the property depended on getting approval from nine government agencies. Every single issue that could plague a site, plagues this little 3/4 acre property. The escalating costs (including application, architect, engineering and legal fees) didn't make it financially feasible for us to continue.

We learned in early June that the property had been sold. Since that time representatives of the new owners have appeared before the Orangetown Historic Review Board, Planning Board, and Zoning Board. On two public occasions when asked who are the owners of the property, their lawyer refused to disclose their names. Although it may be a food business, the exact nature is not yet clear.

As we watch the landscape of our neighborhood change with the bulldozing of the 9W Golf and Driving Range, the future of the gas station is of community concern. It is our hope that the new owners will create a business which will embody and retain the integrity, historic and rural feel of this unique landmark building. Local residents have been attending meetings in the past and we hope that such interest will continue. If future meetings are scheduled, information will be posted on the 10964 website at