Paving the Way Behind The Wheel Full Speed Ahead The Kicks of Route66 Mappin It  

Roadside Architecture

The roadside architecture along Route 66 remains the most visual reflection of each region's landscape, weather, and history. Building materials came from the resources of each state. Whether wood or clay or concrete, the buildings were built simply and usefully (a characteristic of the time) by local miners, farmers, and townspeople. These locals slowly emerged as small entreprenuers taking pride in their small stores, gas stations, cafes, and motels. By maintaining the attitudes, customs, and history of their respective lands, they celebrated their local culture whether realizing it or not. Thus, Route 66, by winding through the deserts, the mountains, and small metropolises, brought people to the local architecture. The road itseld emmbodied American culture from Chicago to L.A.

The Gas Station

The first simply constructed automobiles needed one thing in the 1900's: gasoline. On a road that stretched for a couple thousand miles, gas stations became a necessity. New drivers first purchased gasoline at liveries, repair shops, or general stores. They arduously poured the gas in buckets and then funneled it into their gas tanks. This primative method would soon become obsolete. In 1905 Sylanus F. Bowser turned the water pump he had invented 20 years earlier into a gas pump. He called this ingenius construction "the Filling Station."

Getting Mobil on Route 66
Mobil Gas Station, 1926.
Folling Bowser's lead, curbside pumps sprung up outside general stores in most American small towns. By the 1920's with the growth of the automobile and the construction of roads, the now thriving oil industries began developing more consumer-friendly distribution systems. This move inevitably led to the modern "gas station."

By 1910, the building of the gas station itself generally had an office and an outside canopy. America's "go-getters" founds ways of capitalizing on the standard oild company gas stations. For example, the Whiting brothers discovered that with just some lumber from their father's mill they could easily construct a profitable gas station. Hence, the Whiting Brothers' chain began.

The gas station buildings, as aforementioned, told a lot about a region's climate and available materials. Where houses were mainly brick or wood, the gas stations of Illinois had a wooden or brick structure covered by clapboard or shingles. In Missouri, the material was sandstone. In the more Western regions of Route 66, the arid desert and subhumid plains catered to the large canopy design to protect customers from the sun. These canopies also had to be tall enough to let in light and allow for larger trucks.

Also in the 1910's, Shell and Standard Oil companies of California were the first to paint their company logo on thier steel fabricators. By the 1930's, Pure Oil, Phillip's Petroleum, and Texaco were all standardizing their gas station. In 1937, Texaco actually hired the industrial designer, Walter Dorwin Teague to design a basic "Streamline Moderne" building. Adopting the 1930's functionalism, this design could be used all over the country with any materials available--porcelain-enammeled steel, brick, concrete block, or frame and stucco. Moreover, Texaco's universal simplistic design (a white building with 3 green stripes) became a recognizable icon for gasoline. Attracting motorists all along Route 66 and other major roadways, these gas stations made it possible to travel faster and farther.


"Roadside achitecture, particularly motor-court architecture, represents the country's last blast of vernacular folk architecture based on regional and ethnic precendents." --Quinta Scott, Along Route 66.

In 1915, with the "See America First" campaign, wonderlust stricken Americans across the country took to the road. Following Teddy Roosevelt's encouragement of the outdoors, people began traveling America's new highways to experience nature and get in tough with their rugged survival instincts. Americans gave up the hotels built strategically near railroads and large cities and started camping. Free campgrounds emerged attracting all sorts of travelers. The more undesirable the travelers became, however, the more likely that campgrounds started charging a fee to camp. Developers of these commercial campgrounds added cabins, bathhouses, kitchens, garages, and tents. Gas stations also arose near these campgrounds--increasing the convenience of staying on the road. These "motor-courts" or "motor hotels" quickly took the place of the earlier more expensive hotel.

The design of these new cabinesque structures reflected (much like the gas station) the materials and climate of the thier respective regions. Wood, brick, and stucco made up the bulk of the first motels--given labels such as the "Colonial Clapboard," "Western Bungalow," "Craftsmans Bungalow," "Spanish Colonial," or "Spanish Pueblo."

Starting one of the first motor-court chains between Illinois and Oklahoma in 1928, William Clay Pierce of Pierce-Pennant Oil Company built the Big Chief Hotel in Pond, Missouri. Using the "Spanish Mission plan" he lined an interior courtyard with rooms while also proving an office, gas station, and cafe. Although not a Thomas Jefferson, Pierce reinvigorated a usable past that was imitated by motel developers for years.

With the initial years of Route 66 ending at the start of World War II, urban motel builders adopted the "Streamline Moderne" achictecture leaving the local styles behind. This modern structure allowed for indoor plumbing--a huge draw to the tourister of the 1940's. By the end of the War, roadway travel--especially along Route 66--soared. The huge increase in motel demand also prompted motel builders to leave behind the old style of the single building cabin. They added rooms, overhangs, and extra buildings.


Motorists by the late 1920's saw the rise of gas stations and motels. Now travelinh longer distances and spending the night on the road, Route 66 motorists found that eating during road trips soon followed. In the 1920's while American's were getting in touch with nature, they often brought their food--picnicing along the way. They found it easier, cheaper, faster, and healthier to make their own food before their journeys.

In the 1930's, however, the Fred Harvey restuarant in Gallup, New Mexico began attracting to many traveling customers. Despite its initial location in a local railroad station, Harvey opened his restaurant up to Route 66 drawing crowds of hungry travelers off the long highway. Also during this time, campground developers began providing kitchens so their patrons could cook in between stays. These kitchens quickly turned into cafes when owners realized the potential for increased profits. Thus, by 1939, half the better motor-courts contained cafes. Moreover, during the Depression opening a cafe became a way to use the little skills out-of-work farmers had to make a living.

The design of these new food stands were similar to that of the gas stations and motels--made of brick, wood, stucco with canopies covering seating areas. Thus, cafes as well as gas stations and motels revealed a local color unable to surface without the road and the American traveler.

Kicks of Route 66 Page Route66 Home Page Bibliography Page