Did you know that there are some beautiful old gas stations from the mid century period in the Pacific Northwest? Join us for a tour of a few Pacific Northwest MCM gas stations. But first, a little background.
Gas Station Design Through the Decades
Picture the last gas station where you stopped to fill up. Chances are good that you are visualizing a fairly utilitarian structure—and that is if you can even remember it at all. While you were pumping your gas, you probably were paying little or no attention to the station itself.
But gas stations were not always so blandly devoid of aesthetic considerations. In fact, quite a few early gas stations were architectural gems. Frank Lloyd Wright even once designed one called the R. W. Lindholm Service Station in Cloquet, Minnesota in 1927. This station was something of a predecessor to the iconic gas stations of the mid century period.
Many of the best-known Mid Century Modern gas stations are located in Southern California—not a surprise, given that there was such a dense concentration of cars in SoCal progressing through the 30s into the 40s. It was in that setting that Googie architecture first sprang up.
But MCM gas stations were not exclusive to Southern California. There are mid century stations to be found in Northern California and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Let’s take a look at a few to see how gas station architecture evolved over time.
St. Johns Signal Tower Gas Station – Portland Oregon (1939)
If you are driving through the northern part of Portland and you pass through the neighborhood of St. Johns, the Signal Tower Gas Station may catch your eye. The beige building is distinctly Streamline Moderne—arguably a stylistic bridge between Art Deco and Mid Century Modern.
The structure was built in 1939, originally for the Signal Oil Company. Although it changed hands multiple times, it stayed a gas station until 1984. It has served additional roles since, including a location for a pizza restaurant, as pictured here. It is on the Oregon National Register List.
Restored 1940s Shell Station – Issaquah, Washington (1944 Appearance)
Here, we have a gas station with a very different look, a former Shell station located in Issaquah, WA. The structure actually dates back to 1903, when it was constructed to serve as the N. J. Burke Flour and Feed Store. In the 20s, it closed, becoming a home. In the 40s, it re-opened commercially as a feed store, and also as a gas station.
While it has been out of use since 1990, you can see it here as it existed in 2008, still in beautiful shape. In fact, a restoration on it had concluded just two years prior. The appearance following the restoration recaptured the 1944 look of the station. As you can see, it features a mix of Mid Century Modern and more traditional elements, reflecting its multi-use history.
Orbit Wash – Sacramento, CA (unknown year)
Do you happen to play Fallout video games? Have you visited the Poseidon gas station in Fallout: New Vegas? If so, it just clicked why you might be experiencing a sense of deja’vu looking at this Orbit Wash in Sacramento that used to be a Wilshire gas station. The design is very similar, as pointed out by the photographer who took this shot. Alas, we could not find what year this Googie station was built.
Texaco Station – La Grande, OR (1950s)
If you find yourself in the area of La Grande, OR, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for this 1950s Texaco station. Despite its age, this mid century gas station with Streamline Moderne accents is in marvelous condition thanks to a five-year restoration effort. In fact, even the pumps were designed in a 50s style!
When this shot was taken in 2012, photographer Larry Myhre noted that the station was closed and for sale. But as of 2021, it appears to be open for business once again.
Orbit Gas Station – Sacramento, CA (1963)
Last, but certainly not least, we have this bold example of Googie architecture in the sloped roof of an Orbit Gas Station located in Sacramento. According to RoadsideArchitecture.com, the design for the Sacramento Orbit Googie stations is by Ed Ward, and dates back to 1963. And guess what? You can still get gas here and check it out for yourself if you are ever in the area.
We hope you enjoyed our list of Pacific Northwest MCM gas stations. Be sure to keep a lookout for stations like these in your part of the country the next time you are out on a road trip! For more on MCM architecture in the Pacific Northwest, see Midcentury Marvels Along America’s Pacific Coast.
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