In the early years of my architectural practice, my partner and I (as many young architects do) looked for a small building to remodel and convert for our offices. There was an old service station at the southwest corner of 18th Street and Cincinnati Avenue that was for sale and had, we felt, potential. As with many early 20th Century gas stations, it included a two-car garage that was totally separate from a small service office structure. (It appears in the lower left photo.) Our idea was to connect those two to create one large building. It never happened. We bought another property instead. But this story is a pertinent lead in for discussion about these first service stations scattered around Tulsa.
They were built by major oil companies as a way to sell and promote their oil and gas supplies. Operators were required to sell only products produced by the company that owned the facility. In Tulsa, architectural building styles varied. There were Spanish eclectic stucco models with clay tile roofs, streamlined art-deco metal panel flat roofed models, and those with a residential cottage character favored by Phillips 66. These cottage models are the ones we’ll review here.
For over 40 years, most major street intersections in Tulsa included one or more service stations. Competition was fierce. Gas wars were frequent as the prices of oil fluctuated. Sometimes special promotional items such as carnival glassware were offered. When a customer arrived for a fill-up, a team of uniform-clad attendants would check the tire pressure, the oil level and clean the windshield in addition to filling the gas tank. It was service that was expected and taken for granted.
Early on, Phillips 66 made the decision to blend its gas stations with adjacent neighborhoods by giving them a residential appearance. Usually, these gasoline emporiums were located on a corner for better vehicular access. Frequently, but not always, there was a two-car service garage, located separately from a small office structure. Why the garage building was detached may have been due to concerns with early car exhaust fumes and fire safety or maybe because most residential garages were built separately from their respective houses. Fronting these buildings were the gas pumps which appeared to be tall, slender robotic people with long exposed hose arms and illuminated flat glass disk heads.
The structures were painted brick with steep gabled painted shingle roofs. Phillips’ color scheme was dark green for the brick with orange and blue for the shingled roofs. The Cotswold Cottage design included a brick chimney on the front of the office structure, divided lite steel windows and a small grassy lawn at the front of the property.
At least three of these gas stations survive in Tulsa. Few still function with their original intended purpose. The Phillips 66 station at 2224 E. Admiral Blvd. was listed on the National Register in 2004. It has been enlarged to connect the garage space to the office structure. The Vickery Phillips 66 Station at 602 S. Elgin was listed on the National Register in 2004 and is now used as a car rental property. Finally, there is a station at the southwest corner of 18th Street and Cincinnati Avenue which is used for commercial business purposes.
The first of these types of Phillips Service Stations opened in Wichita, Kansas in 1930. Eventually, the company had 6,750 such stations in 12 states, products of a different era. It would be interesting to find out how many survive today.