Gas stations may be one of our most common commercial building types and one of our most ignored. However, they may be one of our most valuable resources illustrating the evolution of our city during the 20th century.
220 East Forsyth Street
In the years following the Great Fire of 1901, Jacksonville mushroomed into a metropolis fueled by Florida’s largest streetcar network. Operated by the Jacksonville Traction Company, this system stretched 60 miles across the city, carrying as many as 13,828,904 passengers in 1912. However, by this time the wheels had already been set in motion for a new form of mobility that would radically change the built environment of the city.
Radio Report: Restaurants And Houses That Used To Be Gas Stations
In 1905, the world’s first purpose-built gas station opened in St. Louis, MO. By the end of the decade, attempting to accommodate the increasing availability of automobiles locally, businesses such as automobile dealerships and hardware stores began installing curbside gas pumps in the front of their buildings. Built in 1906 as a carriage showroom, blacksmith shop, and horse stable for the McMurray Livery, Sale & Transfer Company at 220 East Forsyth, is an example of a structure that became one of the city’s first gas stations through the installation of curbside gas pumps.
J.J. Daley, Inc. in LaVilla in 1940. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
On December 1, 1913, the Gulf Refining Company opened the first “drive-in” filling station in Pittsburgh, PA. By the end of the decade, multiple use stations began to spring up in and around the area. Better accommodating the automobile than earlier curbside stations, multiple-use stations were created by adding drive-in filling stations to businesses like repair garages, general stores, and restaurants.
Completed in 1917, 7333 Buffalo Avenue in Panama Park is an example of an early multiple-use station that opened in what was then a rural community five miles north of Jacksonville.
Horne’s was a tourist candy and souvenir store located throughout the country known for their bright yellow roofs. Founded by Bob Horne in Bayard on US 1/Philips Highway, they were usually paired with Texaco gas. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
During the 1920s, Jacksonville became one of the first cities in Florida to implement a zoning code. This act laid the foundation for the development of linear commercial districts radiating out from the downtown core. In many instances, these commercial corridors were busy streetcar routes. With the proliferation of gas stations opening in residential areas, some chains began to experiment with House-Type stations to better fit into the communities they served.
The Colonial Oil Company gas station at 400 East 8th Street in Springfield on January 28, 1954. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
2951 Post Street
The Dan W. Copelan Filling Station opened at 2951 Post Street in Riverside in 1935, using an English Cottage style House-Type station that was originally designed for the Ohio-based Pure Oil Company by self-trained architect Carl A. Peterson. The general thought behind the concept was to create a safe, efficient gas station that even the neighbors could love.
2525 Liberty Street in May 2018.
Two years later, Sidney P. Claxton opened a filling station at 2525 Liberty Street using a similar Pure Oil Company House-Type design in New Springfield. Carl Peterson’s cottage style filling stations continued to be built into the 1950s.
Station owners also began to experiment with Programmatic designs where their structures assumed various shapes and elements seeking to appeal to the curiosity of the passing motorist. Now occupied by the European Street Cafe, 2735 Park Street in Riverside originally opened as a Programmatic-style station for the Orange State Oil Company in 1941. At the time, the Buck Rodgers series had become popular, leading to this station being designed to look like an Art Deco/Art Moderne style spaceship.
The Cities Service gas station in November 1955. This Art Deco styled station was located at the intersection of Old Kings Road and Edgewood Avenue and associated with the Orange State Oil Company. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
By the early 1930s, many chains had began to incorporate simply Box-Type Station designs as a form of architectural standardization where customers could easily associate a design with a particular brand. Easy to replicate, the Shell Oil Company was one of the early chains to use Box-Type Stations, including this former company example constructed at 1602 Pearl Street in Springfield in 1931.
The Shell Oil Company opened this box-type station at 1602 Pearl Street in Springfield in 1931.
The Diet Alert Center at 6620 North Main Street in Panama Park was originally a Padgett’s 66 Service Station.
In 1936, automobile industry fever led to the replacement of Jacksonville’s streetcar system with buses, which were considered by transit leaders of the era to be more trendy, flexible, and efficient. Following the end of World War II, new highways designed specifically for motorized vehicles began to dominate and alter the city’s development pattern. Following the traffic, new gas stations began to sprout up along busy corridors like North Main Street. To distinguish themselves from their competitors, many enhanced the Box-Type Station concept by incorporating contemporary design trends of the mid-20th century. This gas station design style became known as the Stylized Box. In 1959, Manchester M. Padgett of Fernandina Beach opened a Stylized-Box concept called Padgett’s 66 Service Station at 6620 North Main Street in Panama Park.
A Gulf Service Station on the current site of San Marco Square’s Balis Park during the early 1930s. Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida
This former Sun Oil Company filling station opened at 252 East 8th Street in Springfield in 1928.
Many early gas companies used the massing, scale, and shape of their stations to reflect architectural trends taking place locally. For example, by the late 1920s, Spanish Mediterranean Revival architecture had become a very popular design style throughout Florida. Seeking to integrate its identity with this popular architectural style, two filling stations affiliated with the Sun Oil Company opened on East 8th Street in Springfield embracing the Mediterranean Revival style. Today, the Sun Oil Company is known as Sunoco.
This former Sun Oil Company filling station opened in 1929 at 1003 East 8th Street (8th and Evergreen) in Phoenix. At the time, 8th Street was a busy corridor featuring a streetcar line that connected the city to the port and other heavy industry along Talleyrand Avenue. Evergreen Avenue provided a direct connection between the Eastside and Evergreen Cemetery.
1601 North Pearl Street was built by Standard Oil Company in 1931.
In addition, canopies became an important central element of the early drive-in filling station. Sheltering customers, pumps, and attendants from bad weather, the design of canopies provided an opportunity to provide character and aesthetic quality to non-descript buildings. The Standard Oil Company was well-known for their use of the canopy to embellish the look of their filling stations. Early examples of former Standard Oil filling stations can be found all throughout the urban core of Jacksonville. Former Standard Oil stations can easily be found with the identification of a dominant canopy design featuring a low pitched, hip roof with a Y-shaped metal truss for support.
1601 North Pearl Street’s Y-shaped metal truss for the support of its canopy.
A former Standard Oil filling station at 528 North Myrtle Avenue that was originally operated by Alex English and Jason Ennis in 1928.
This former Standard Oil filling station at 4001 North Main Street opened in 1939 near Andrew Jackson High School in Brentwood.
Rue Saint Marc in San Marco Square was originally a Shell gas station with a roof intended to mimic the design of a Ranch style house.
During rapid expansion of mid-20th century suburbia, chains also utilized roof configuration and pitch to stand out from the competition. The roof of Shell’s Ranch house style design was a central element for their Stylized Box concept.
This Tropical Smoothie in San Marco at 1808 Hendricks Avenue opened in 1938 as a filling station.
While historic gas stations may be underappreciated, they tend to be well suited for start-up businesses and adaptive reuse projects. Throughout Jacksonville, former stations have been retrofitted into restaurants, cafes, residences, and other automobile related uses.
1004 Hendricks Avenue opened as the Eldridge S. Oliver filling station in 1941. Today, it is the location of Flavors Thai and Bar.
The King Crab House occupies a former Standard Oil filling station that opened at 3125 North Main Street in Brentwood in 1933.
Now a private Springfield residence, this Texas Oil Company filling station opened in 1927 at 1555 Pearl Street.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of Metro Jacksonville.com and ModernCities.com — two websites dedicated to promoting fiscally sustainable communities — and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at email@example.com