Teapots to Teepees: America's Most Bizarre Gas Stations

Teapot Dome gas station
Teapot Dome gas station | © John Margolies Roadside America photograph archive (1972-2008), Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Architecture & Design Editor

Art historian John Margolies practically dedicated his life to venturing far and wide across America in search of whimsical and quirky-shaped buildings, with gas stations being a particular passion of his.

‘Bomber gas station, diagonal view, Route 99 E’

He travelled for 100,000 miles and spent almost half his life documenting these bizarre mid-century relics, taking tens of thousands of photographs, which have featured in numerous books including John Margolies: Roadside America.

‘Teepee Amoco’
‘Hat n’ Boots gas station (1945), boot restrooms with hat behind them view, 6800 [East] Marginal Way [South], Route 99′

Now you can retrace Margolies’ footsteps – virtually – by perusing through an archive of 11,700+ images that has been made available to the public, thanks to the Library of Congress.

‘Harold’s Auto Center, horizontal view, Sinclair gas station, Route 19’
‘Seneca Mobil’

Not everyone shared his passion for these quirky and sometimes garish buildings, however, with many of his minimalist contemporaries eschewing his obsession, labelling it as ‘kitsch’.
In an interview back in the 1980s with Canadian Globe and Mail, Margolies fought back against his critics: “People generally have thought that what’s important are the large, unique architectural monuments. They think Toronto’s City Hall is important, but not those wonderful gnome’s-castle gas stations in Toronto, a Detroit influence that crept across the border and polluted your wonderfully conservative environment.”

‘Windmill gas’
‘Iceberg Gas’

He did get some backing though, receiving a grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and became a fellow of the Alicia Patterson Foundation for his photojournalism.

Sadly, many of these unique buildings that Margolies documented have now disappeared, with some even being destroyed just days after he had visited them, making his photos even more important today.

To see the archive for yourself, search the gallery here.

‘Shell gas’
‘Indian City Exxon’
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