The building located at 5299 Commercial Way in Spring Hill takes the shape of a dinosaur character known as Dino, an “Apatosaurus” that stands 47 feet tall and is 110 feet long. And Dino is poised to become a nationally known celebrity; one proposed for nomination for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; an official list of the Nation’s historical sites deemed worthy of preservation.
“Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources,” reports the National Register of Historic Places website, https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/faqs.htm.
The Hernando Board of County Commissioners was alerted to this proposal April 13, via a letter received from Ruben Acosta, Survey & Registration Supervisor of the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Florida Department of State. The nomination proposal, the letter revealed, will be reviewed by the Florida National Register Review Board in a public meeting set to take place 1:30 p.m. May 28, in Tallahassee. If the property meets the criteria for listing in the national register, a formal nomination will be submitted to the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C., who will make the final decision. Any comments and support for the nomination should be submitted by May 28, to Ruben Acosta, Survey & Registration Supervisor, Division of Historical Resources, R.A. Gray Building, 500 South Bronough Street, Tallahassee, FL, 32399, or visit www.flheritage.com.
“I really enjoy seeing these monuments presented; it sheds light onto our history and gives us a chance to learn about our community. This business just adds to the history of the County. Whether positive or negative it’s a way for us to learn,” said Commissioner Jeff Holcomb, District 4. “The Harold’s Auto dinosaur was originally a Sinclair gas station in 1964, inspired by the Sinclair Oil mascot prominently featured in ads and on signs since 1930.
“Officially listed on the proposal as the Sinclair Service Station building, this structure finds its origins as a cement gas station opened in 1964 just south of Weeki Wachee, built by Sinclair Oil Co. dealer William Wilkis of New Port Richey.
“I know it was originally a Sinclair Gas Station. While it is the shape of the company logo, I don’t think dinosaur shaped buildings were common among Sinclair stations and I suspect it is truly one of a kind. It is my understanding that the pumps were removed during a US19 road widening project,” said Jo-Anne Peck, Preservation Resource, Inc./ Historic Shed.
Harold Hurst purchased the dinosaur building in 1977, making the distinctive structure the home of Harold’s Auto Center, still open for business today (https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/47467).
“I’m excited about the idea of the building being included in the national register,” said Dana Hurst, co-owner of Harold’s Auto Center. “This would make the building more of a monument.” Dana and his mother Irene Hurst are co-owners of Harolds.
Yet why was this business first constructed in the likeness of a dinosaur? Well Dino (pronounced Dye-No) finds his origins in 1930, when the Sinclair Oil Co. used a series of dinosaur logos to promote a line of lubricants refined from crude oil–an element formed when dinosaurs walked the earth. It was Dino, a smiling Apatosaurus, that became wildly popular with audiences; so much so, in fact, that Sinclair registered him as a trademark in 1932 (https://www.sinclairoil.com/dino-history).
Through the years, Dino has appeared as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and is now an Honorary Member of the Museum of Natural History. A fiber glass, animatronic version of Dino has appeared at the World’s Fair–and the precious prehistoric creature is available for purchase as a stuffed toy, an inflatable and even as a soap. And there’s a reason that the central family featured in the ’90s hit sitcom Dinosaurs was named Sinclair (https://www.sinclairoil.com/dino-history).
By the time the Hurst family acquired the Spring Hill ‘Dino’ building April 6, 1977, it had become a FINA Gas Station. Yet the building retained its original shape and structure, with the Hursts integrating its unique design into the marketing copy for their automotive repair business, Harold’s Auto Center.
“Although we are inside a Dinosaur we stay up to date with what your vehicle needs!” declares the Harold’s Auto Center website.
The building’s current owner, Dana Hurst, said that the station has welcomed celebrity visitors that have ranged from Larry the Cable Guy to veteran journalist Charles Kuralt, who featured the site in his popular On the Road series. And the building is featured on any number of tourist websites, from Roadside America to Waymarking to Virtual Globetrotting.
Patricia Crowley, CEO of Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, sees the dinosaur building as a community landmark.
“The old Sinclair Dinosaur, built in 1964, has been a known roadside landmark in Weeki Wachee/Spring Hill to many Hernando County Visitors and Residents,” she said. “Being recognized in the National Register of Historic Places is great for our Adventure Coast Tourism. Travelers love to visit Roadside America Attractions-great for our businesses.”
“That is a remarkable building,” agreed Jon Yeager, Secretary of the Historic Hernando Preservation Society. “A piece of Americana!”
And while Dana Hurst supports Dino’s submission into the National Register of Historic Places, he knows that his building already stands as a community fixture.
“Our business is easy to find,” he said. “Everyone knows where the dinosaur is.”