By the early 1930s gas station, while becoming more widespread, were still a novelty. There was no established model for gas station design. As a result, the structure was highly individualized, dependent upon the owner's tastes and notions. He (for the early gas station owner/operators were typically men) had one goal, to attract the motorist's attention as she or he sped along. Commercial communication in the age of automobile travel differed markedly from the era of pedestrian or horse and buggy traffic. The speed at which autos traveled rendered small lettering and details invisible. The early designer needed a unique yet immediately recognizable image. These buildings are among the earliest examples of, in author Daniel Vieyra's words, "the architecture of communication" (19).





These designs drew upon a tradition of adventure. Among them were the airplane, which were increasingly popular after Lindberg's flight (Vieyra, 14). Nautical images such as ships and light houses were also common, particularly along the East coast. They were particularly effective structures as their beacons, which often actually lit up, got the attention of customers. The roadside committee of the local chamber of commerce in Montauk, Long Island, honored a local gas station in the form of a lighthouse for its, "protection of natural scenic and roadside beauty of Long Island"(Vieyra, 17).
Gas stations were also modeled on the actual devices their operators used. These stations appealed to the "automania" to which they owed their existence and simultaneously advertised the services they provided. This function of this gas pump shaped building, for example, is unmistakable. Some structures were specific in their representation of the goods and services they provided such as a Shell gasoline station shaped like a shell. That station was one of the few examples of fantastic design that draws upon corporate imagery.





Often builders of fantastic stations referenced their own specific regions to appeal to tourists. The "natural wonder stations" looked to nearby natural formations for inspiration (Vieyra, 20). They promoted themselves as tourist destinations in their own right even as they provided the tourist with fuel to get to his or her actual destination. A Colorado gas station used souvenirs and postcards as advertisement, billing itself as the "only petrified wood filling station" A California station was built into a redwood tree and promoted a "the World's Largest Redwood Tree Service Station"(Vieyra, 20). Similarly, other stations looked to their local culture for inspiration. These stations often reflected national stereotypes of the local culture, such as "Mammy's Cupboard" in Natchez, Mississippi. A service station in Tarrytown, New York, the home of Washington Irving, called itself the "Headless Horseman Texaco Station." It was converted from an inn and is "smaller than life…creating a storybook feeling, a concept later exploited by Walt Disney at Disneyland" (Vieyra, 21).

A popular gas station motif in New York State was the windmill. This design was found, mainly, in regions with sizable or influential Dutch populations. The structure worked well as a gas station. Its "large, rotating blades served as signboards that would easily gain the notice of the driver. Sometimes, each blade announced, in illuminated letters, a function: gas, oil, grease and service"(Vieyra, 22).








Sometimes, the station had little or nothing to do with the local culture but referenced a (often inauthentic) national culture. Gas stations shaped like wigwams and teepees sprung up in places as far apart as Kansas, Kentucky, Virginia and Quebec. Each of these locations combined tourist-camps (early motels) with the gas station. The station in Bardstown, Kentucky promised travelers to "Eat and Sleep in Wigwam" (Vieyra, 22). The Kansas stations employed Native Americans as attendants who wore "traditional dress"(Vieyra, 23).
By the 1935 the Fantastic Gas station was declining in numbers, the victim of increasing corporate ownership of stations and professional corporate advertising (Vieyra, 26).