On the OST, numerous structures built as gas stations, garages and car dealerships are easily recognized today — and some even to continue to service automobiles. Remarkably, a few garages listed in the 1929 travelogue are still in business, owned by a descendent of the original owner. Other surviving gas station buildings have found new use as car repair shops, llanteras, restaurants, florists, and even residences. Countless others are suffering a slow death. Here are a few examples from along the Trail.
New Mexico Bolt and Screw Company, Las Cruces, New Mexico
This former Conoco gas station sits at the corner of Main Street and Picacho Avenue, where the Old Spanish Trail and US 80 made a big swing westward to cross the desert toward San Diego. In the old days, this was the last place to fuel up between Las Cruces and Deming. With its curving parapets, exposed vigas, battered walls, and textured whitewash exterior, this is one of the best examples of a gas station designed in the regional Pueblo Revival style. It complements the impressive Pueblo Revival-style old county courthouse and Branigan Center, both designed by El Paso architect Percy McGhee.
Though it no longer pumps gas, the building is noteworthy as New Mexico’s premier purveyor of bolts and screws.
Borrillo’s Pizza & Subs, St. Augustine, Florida
Popular in the 1930s, the so-called cottage- or house-type gas station gave the feeling of a cozy domicile, with its faux chimneys, high-pitched gable roof, and residential architectural details. This former Getty gas station in St. Augustine (left) now serves New York-style grinders and pumps fountain drinks. Compare this restaurant with the well-preserved cottage-style gas station in Lake Charles, Louisiana — now a custom woodwork and furniture restoration shop.
This “Flying Wing” gas station is located on the “new” alignment of US 80 (Los Angeles Avenue). Even with its clean, space-age design, this former service station could not compete with the speed and efficiency of Interstate 8. Stripped of everything but its jutting canopy, it is testament to US 80’s last gasp as an interstate highway.
This interesting combination house and canopy gas station originally went by the name of Fred’s Service Station. Opened and operated by Fred Blasé and his wife, who lived upstairs in the second story portion of the building. Blasé, an automobile business entrepreneur, later opened Fred Blasé’s Drive-In and Leonard's Drive-In — with Leonard's serving cars via waitresses on horseback.The gas station, with its two-story profile and Craftsman details, is unique along the Old Spanish Trail. Constructed in 1926, the business today provides tire repair service.
A “day and night” operation, More Mileage was one of those large, oversized canopy gas station and garage operations that seemed to pop up only in the 1920s. With its deep, sheltered gas pumping area, the building commands almost a half block of Main Street. Two large stepped parapets face old US 90; a small blue and orange sign once outlined in neon hangs below. The now-rusting ceiling of the garage is made of pressed tin. On both sides of the entrance to the sales area are glazed terra cotta panels depicting a pioneer wagon driving across the desert amid cactus and rocks — a landscape OST travelers would experience some 1,000 miles farther west. Housing a sporting goods store up until 2003, and now for sale, the fate of this original OST service station is unknown.
Located at the west end of Main Street (old US 80), the former auto row of El Centro, this brightly painted motorcycle repair shop once housed Imperial Valley Motors — for many years the area’s premiere Packard and Pontiac dealership and service. Behind the arcaded façade is a deep garage where once Clippers, Chieftains, and Torpedoes waited for repair. On a street much changed (and recently given a questionable Art Deco facelift), it is encouraging to see the business still servicing motorized vehicles, albeit motorcycles.
When opened on October 12, 1929, the new O’Reilly Motor Company boasted to be as up-to-date as any “found in the largest metropolitan centers” and one of the “largest and most modern sales and service stations in the entire state of Arizona.”
The 26,000-square foot business reflected the success of its president Frank C. O’Reilly, who since opening a Chevrolet dealership in 1924 had sold 2,436 new and 4,834 used cars — setting a national record for car sales. To build his new business, O’Reilly selected the 400 block of North Sixth Avenue, the heart of Tucson’s auto row and a vital stretch of US 80 and the Old Spanish Trail. The building now houses a furniture design studio, one of several design and art studios situated in old auto-related businesses along North Sixth.