Over at buzz.mn today, James Lileks made an interesting little post about old gas stations. He makes an interesting point:
…in the old days you could get a comb and a soda, nothing more. Maybe the plague, if you used the restroom. But the modern stations lack pizzazz. With a few exceptions they’re bland utilitarian structures smothered with ads for lotteries and smokes. The fifties and sixties saw the finest gas station architecture – and much of it is still around.
This post also called for the readers to submit their own photos of old gas stations. Gas stations in general tend not to be built to last, and tend to also be built in cookie-cutter designs that face the wrecking ball swiftly and unlamented when their usefulness has waned. Oddly enough, it’s that relative fragility that gives us this scene from the 1963 comedy epic It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which is almost as notable for it’s depiction of a contemporary gas station as it is for the manner in which said station is systematically demolished:
Around here, one of the few surviving 60s gas stations (for the time being, at least) can be found in downtown Bellevue, on Northeast 8th Street. The station has slanted windows and a triangular canopy over the former location of the pumps, which are the hallmarks of a former Phillips 66 station (although I can’t recall ever seeing a Phillips 66 station in the time I’ve lived here.) This former station has most recently hosted a toy store, but now sits vacant, serving as an impromptu parking lot. Given the rapid growth in Bellevue, chances are the station will probably be bulldozed as soon as someone decides to put up another hi-rise on the land. An aerial photo of the station can be found here (you can switch to the birds-eye view for a better look,) which shows the encroaching construction which will probably eventually seal this old station’s fate. Maybe if I have some time in the next few days I’ll go take some better photos.
Although there aren’t a lot of interesting old gas stations to be found around here, a roadtrip I took through the Southwestern United States back in April took me to one of the longest remaining stretches of the old Route 66 in Arizona, between Seligman and Kingman, a route lined with a number of ghost towns. After the jump, a few photos of some gas stations I took along the route.
First of all, we have this gas station turned gift shop, found in Seligman. Seligman is a small town that likes to bill itself as the “birthplace” of Historic Route 66. Indeed, the town’s economy seems to be based primarily on route 66 tourism and nostalgia, and a significant portion of the town’s main street is occupied by gift shops selling Route 66 memorabilia. Probably the most notable attraction in Seligman is the Snow Cap, a drive-in restaurant that serves burgers and dead chicken with a side of schlock. As you leave town, a few modern gas stations greet you with inflated prices, but the 80 miles (give or take) to Kingman aren’t going to provide many opportunities to fill up. Still, in spite of the more touristy feel of Seligman compared to the towns to be found on the road ahead, it is not without ghosts of its own:
As you leave Seligman, the next 30 miles or so provides little but scenery and the Grand Canyon Caverns, a place that you would probably find a picture of if you went and looked up “Tourist trap” in the dictionary. If you are so inclined, you can spend $12 and 45 minutes taking a guided tour of the caverns here, but moving on we eventually reach Truxton, a virtual ghost town that brings us several more old gas stations:
The canopy, although badly weathered and neglected, allows this station to be recognized as a former Texaco station by the remaining vestiges of the green and white stripes found on the roof. It seems for some odd reason to have accumulated a collection of assorted junk cars over the years. The building actualy appears to be maintained to some degree, although it is unclear for what purpose.
Near the Texaco station we have this one. The sign indicates that this was formerly a Bell Gas station, a brand which was found scattered throughout the Southwest that I now presume to be defunct, although Internet searches prove inconclusive. (Upon further examination, it appears that the photo in the link may actually be the same station, just slightly older and more sepia toned.) In spite of the “open” sign in front, I wasn’t able to determine whether this was actually the case or not. Given the fact that this doesn’t exactly look like the most hospitable place to run a convenience store, I’m guessing it wasn’t. On the other hand, not everything in Truxton is abandoned:
This station continues to operate to this day, a throwback to an era long past. On the other hand, I am not entirely sure that this is the place I want to find myself if I break down or run out of gas out in the middle of nowhere. Continuing past Truxton further down the road, we come upon a couple other ghost towns, including Hackberry, where we find this:
This particular station is a bit harder to pin down than some of the others. On one hand, the classic 76 sign is well faded, the shrubs in front clearly appear to have had some time to grow, and the style of the station is one that fell out of favor long ago. On the other hand, the shingles on the roof are in surprisingly good condition, and the antenna on the roof indicates that perhaps the building has been repurposed for some other unknown use. Finally, we conclude our brief trip down the Mother Road with this:
The Hackberry General Store ceased to dispense gas long ago (assuming that it actually did so at some point, which in spite of the proliferation of old gas pumps isn’t entirely certain) but also boasts a fully restored ’56 Corvette parked in front and a significant collection of Route 66 souvenirs and ephemera. It’s an interesting little place to wander around.
After Hackberry, the final few miles of the drive into Kingman, where you can either rejoin I-40, take US-93 up to Hoover Dam and into Las Vegas, or continue on Route 66 to Oatman and points west, are uneventful. Kingman represents an oasis of civilization in this largely barren part of the Southwest, although it remains proud of its route 66 heritage as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stop there (although in hindsight after 90 miles of US-93 without a restroom in sight I sure wish that I had,) but perhaps the next time my path takes me in that direction I’ll make sure to spend a bit more time there. Having been born too late to experience Route 66 in its heyday, this trip represented a pilgrimage of sorts, to at least see some of the relics that it left behind.