LIVINGSTON, NJ — The building on the corner of Old Short Hills Road and Northfield Avenue displays a sign reading: "the forgotten corner." It raises curiosity, suggesting that there might be a hidden meaning.
Many local residents might recall the days when this building, which now serves as the parking lot for the Livingston Diner, was a gas station. What is clearly forgotten about this corner is that both the diner and former gas station have a combined total of 80 years of history worth remembering.
I wouldn't have to look any further then a family photo album to tell the story of this forgotten corner.
My grandfather, James Fagan Sr., was a West Orange resident who first came here in June 1945. He served in the US Navy during WWII and upon receiving an honorable discharge from service was looking to restart his life.
He used his mustering-out pay of $347.31 to purchase an existing gas station and auto repair business known as Northfield Texaco Service on this corner. He had been a gasoline delivery driver for Texaco before the war, and likely became aware of this business opportunity from his former employer.
My grandfather soon changed the name to Fagan's Texaco Service; and photos seem to indicate that as of 1946, the gas station was the sole occupant on the corner. He leased the property, which consisted of a larger concrete building with two narrow bays for auto repairs next to a smaller wooden frame building serving, as an office with three gas pumps in front.
In early 1953, the original gas station was removed, and the building now occupying the corner was constructed in front of the old one. It was larger and provided additional work space inside for repairs with a three bay garage and a lift. A second lift was added in 1961. The three gas pumps on the Northfield Avenue side were joined with two additional pumps on the Old Short Hills Road side, bringing the total pumps to five.
As was typical at the time, Fagan's Texaco Service had uniformed attendants. Cleaning the windshield and offering to check the oil and tire pressure were common practices that never went out of style at Fagan's Texaco. It was during an era when major gasoline retailers marketed brand loyalty to customers.
Texaco's slogan was, "Trust your car to the man who wears the star." Repeat business was the lifeblood of most neighborhood gas stations, as it became a place to gather and socialize over a cup of coffee. Fagan's Texaco was no exception, and regular customers became part of an extended family.
A small restaurant named the "Livingston All Around Shop" first appeared in photographs in the mid-1950s next to Fagan's Texaco. At some point, its name was changed to Todds when it was purchased by Teddy Pantos.
He sold it to George Apostolopolos in 1972, who initially kept the name. By this time, the gas station business was taken over by my father, James Fagan Jr., and his brother, my Uncle Bill, since my grandfather had passed away in 1965.
They soon established a close friendship with Apostolopolos, and their professional relationship lasted until the end of 1978, when the Fagans' business was sold. My father and uncle felt they could no longer meet the rigors of long hours and demands of being self-employed.
After pumping 13,011,813 gallons of gasoline over 32 years on leased property, they decided it was time to sell the business for $70,000 and move on. Both brothers continued working together as they spend the rest of their career working as mechanics for the New Jersey State Police until their retirement.
The new owners took over the business and lease and continued selling the Texaco brand, but it only lasted about 2 years. By this time, an extension on nearby East Cedar Street opened diverting traffic flow away from the gas station with a negative impact on sales.
When it finally closed in 1980, Apostolopolos purchased the property. It was also around the time when his small restaurant changed the name from Todds to the current day Livingston Diner.
The gas tanks, pumps and car lifts were eventually all removed from the building, along with the signage and any other evidence of the service station's existence.
The interior of the building is now used as storage space for the restaurant. The former Fagan's Texaco casts a symbolic shadow across the continuum of time upon where gas pumps once stood.
The years have been both kind and cruel to this place, as the surviving building quietly conceals its past in the parking lot of the Livingston Diner. The unmerciful nature of fate has relegated the aptly named forgotten corner to now bear silent witness to over 80 years of a mostly forgotten history.
This article has been written by a community member as part of TAPinto Livingston's news "Livingston History" section. Residents are encouraged to submit similar articles, photos or story ideas related to the history of Livingston Township to email@example.com.
The author of this article, Joseph Fagan, is now the Official Historian of the Township of West Orange and has written four books on the subject. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.