Little Italy storefront holding Red Cross after arson torn down

The facade of Joy Oil gas station in Little Italy is a frayed wreck.

Inside, a broken cash register is crumpled over, with row after row of broken bottles inside the dusty place that used to be known as The Salvation Army, until it was shuttered in December amid escalating violence in the neighborhood.

The gas station is broken up by rusted pipe. On the block, clothes and shoes lay around in a pile, alongside the shattered glass from the liquor store. An aging motel next door burned down.

The property owner, MAP Development Group, had to pay for exterior and interior renovations after the station suffered structural damage from a house fire. At least $100,000 in damage was done to the building, not including the costs for moving a car that was crushed under the rig and required a crane to move it.

MAP Development Group told Metro Weekly in an email, “The damage was substantial enough to bring new forward costing the site is in excess of $400,000.”

MAP Development Group is part of a partnership that owns the land, land and freehold of the property, according to city records. MAP Development Group and a third development partner previously unsuccessfully tried to sell the property to a private developer for an estimated $15 million.

MAP Development Group has been mentioned in court documents in recent years in a pair of cases.

In 2003, the developer’s former legal partner in a real estate deal was convicted of professional bribery, conspiracy, bank fraud and securities fraud.

The developer was hit with an internal investigation at his company after he allegedly borrowed against equipment for a personal loan and had it later repossessed after it was not paid back. He also reportedly later tried to mislead investors into thinking his company was doing more than it was, and in 2004 was accused of unlawfully trading business with a food processing company.

More recently, the developer was sued in August 2018 by the city of Washington for more than $35,000 in unpaid taxes on the gas station.

He also had the go-ahead to remove the old cash register, but had been waiting for three months before, instead, offering just two wooden blocks to sit on to replace the busted register. He got a follow-up permit to remove the four wooden boards, but it still wasn’t done by July 8, the last date for late fees to be applied.

Local activist and noted historic preservationist Charles Lindsey was at the meeting to see the damage and would have hoped to see a lot more done immediately.

“I was hoping at least that they would have brought in some temporary housing and a car wash,” he says. “It’s a crime when a property with this much value is used for a single-use business.”

The Joy Oil gas station was built in the late 19th century and was originally owned by the family of W.A. Linden, the officer in charge of the National Guard. The name of the station became known in Little Italy as The Salvation Army, since the church next door was founded in 1891 by those who did not agree with the then-new method of recruiting volunteers, Linden wrote in his memoirs.

But the station soon changed its name to Joy Oil. From 1948 to 1954, the station sold wine and spirits, according to city records. In 1954, the station became a gas station that stored oil for a manufacturer that could not be used.

In October 2010, Linden and fellow Salvation Army officers who met with Linden said they rejected MAP Development Group’s offer to sell their property. They said that they had been under “great pressure” from the City of Washington and noted that MAP President Robert Brown had been fined and convicted for four counts of forgery for signing documents that made it appear he was the real owner of the property. He was later named to the District Court’s Real Estate Chapter because he had signed those documents while imprisoned, court records show.

Following the experience, the Salvation Army announced that the store would close and that employees would be offered positions elsewhere. But the former manager and several former employees say there was no plan in place to clean up the property and repurpose it for other uses.

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