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Texaco Gas Stations

Texas gushes oil as Henry Ford puts America on wheels. Tarmac snakes across early 20th Century America and filling stations spring up every few miles. But what about the architecture?

Texaco

 
The Teague Texaco comprised no more than a gleaming white box with a canopy
Walter Dorwin Teague set up his industrial design office in 1928 and one of his first projects was to make the humble Kodak Box Brownie more appealing (see Octane last month). From this modest start Teague had become one of America’s foremost consultants by the mid-’30s and his projects had grown in scale. In 1936 Texaco asked him to redesign their gas stations to give the company a ‘modern’ look befitting the streamlined decade.

Texaco had started life as The Texas Fuel Company in Beaumont in 1901. Its job was shipping crude oil, but business took an upturn in 1903 when the fledgling outfit hit black gold during a speculative venture into exploration. Recently renamed The Texas Company, it instantly became a major oil producer.

The first purpose-built filling station in the world opened in St Louis, Missouri, in 1905. Three years later Henry Ford introduced his Model T, which would put America on wheels, tarmac on the prairies and a gas station every few miles across the continent.
 
The Texas Company opened its first filling station in 1911 – curiously, in Brooklyn, New York, which is about as far from Beaumont as you can get without leaving the US. With ‘money’ pumping out of the ground as fast as it could be shipped, the Texaco star began its migration across the United States, in 1928 becoming the first brand to be available in all 48 states.

As the newfangled automobile began its inexorable rise to dominance over the horse, owners of livery stables and country stores began adding a gasoline pump alongside their traditional merchandise. The architecture of gas stations remained as varied and inconsistent as the premises vending it. But it soon became apparent that separating the gas from the corn was a good idea and the dedicated filling station emerged.

Texaco was as consistent in its corporate inconsistency as other fuel brands, building new gas stations in a variety of local architectural styles, from Spanish Mission to Pitched-roof Country via Moorish Domed. But as streamlined modern design took hold in the 1930s, Texaco decided on a corporate facelift and engaged Teague to produce a new house-style.
 
Teague had discovered Modernism first hand when he visited Europe in the late 1920s, where Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier was the high priest of the new architectural cult. Corbusier fully embraced the machine age and mass production, and in one of his seminal books described the house as a ‘machine for living in’. Teague was now presented with the task of producing a machine to feed the car. The result was a pared-back, minimalist masterpiece worthy of Le Corbusier himself. And it was to be reproduced in numbers that Le Corbusier could only dream of.
 
Deceptively simple, the Teague Texaco comprised no more than a gleaming white box with a cantilevered canopy. Teague was a firm believer in the classical proportions of the Golden Section, and the strictly rectilinear box was punctured by steel-framed windows and doors distributed with mathematical precision. The only curves in the building were at the outer corners of the canopy, which rested on two slim steel pillars and seemed to float above the gas pumps. The design was held together by a motif of three raised green stripes which sped around the whole building. A column next to the highway, topped by the star logo, alerted the traveller that he was approaching a Texaco Station.
 
Variations on the design were built well into the 1960s, when the company went suburban and switched to shingle-roofed bungalows of little architectural distinction, designed to blend in and not offend.

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