Saving Alabama's Historic Gas Stations

Brewton Gas Station i i

This gas station in Brewton is abandoned and on the endangered list. Alabama Historical Commission hide caption

itoggle caption Alabama Historical Commission
Brewton Gas Station

This gas station in Brewton is abandoned and on the endangered list.

Alabama Historical Commission
Wetumpka Gas Station i i

In Wetumpka, an old station was converted into a children's clothing store. Alabama Historical Commission hide caption

itoggle caption Alabama Historical Commission
Wetumpka Gas Station

In Wetumpka, an old station was converted into a children's clothing store.

Alabama Historical Commission

The Alabama Preservation Alliance and the Alabama Historical Commission have just named historic gas stations across the state "places of peril." Architectural historian Melanie Betz tells Scott Simon what makes these gas stations worth preserving.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) You get something more at your happy motoring store. You get more, more to cheer for...

Unidentified Man: With new Esso Extra gasoline!

Unidentified Group: (Singing) You get more, more value...

Unidentified Man: With Esso Extra motor oil!

SCOTT SIMON, host:

If you drive across Alabama and look along the sides of the slower roads, you'll see gas stations from every era: the glamorous curves of the '30s, the sleek steel sides of the '60s. Remember Esso, Gulf, Standard Oil, Richland Oil? The Alabama Preservation Alliance and the Alabama Historical Commission have just named historic gas stations around the state places of peril, historic sites in significant danger. Melanie Betz is an architectural historian at the commission. She joins us from her office in Montgomery.

Thanks for being with us.

Ms. MELANIE BETZ (Architectural Historian, Alabama Historical Commission): Thank you.

SIMON: And what makes a gas station historic, something worth preserving?

Ms. BETZ: Well, this is the great influence of the automobile during the 20th century. And no other building type was really more influenced by the rise of the automobile than the gasoline or service station. And these structures are tangible reminders of our past.

SIMON: Why have so many historical gas stations gone out of use?

Ms. BETZ: Well, I think it's the evolution from kind of the mom-and-pop gas stations to the mass-produced, you know, kind of a universal design.

SIMON: Well, what happens when a gas station goes out of business? Who owns it?

Ms. BETZ: They fall into private hands, and they're just abandoned. A lot of times, of course, these gas stations were on roads that are no longer traveled, you know, small towns that have basically dried up.

SIMON: Yeah. Historically, Miss Betz, were some of the first gas stations also attached to motels or bed and breakfasts?

Ms. BETZ: Well, I think the very earliest gas stations were, you know, single-room, metal, prefabricated sheds.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BETZ: And then it wasn't really until a little bit later, meaning like the 1940s and '50s, did they start also being connected to travel, you know, like motels and places like that.

SIMON: Do you have any favorite gas stations?

Ms. BETZ: Well, I love the 1930s and 1940s stations.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BETZ: I especially love, like, those art moderne stations.

SIMON: Oh, yeah.

Ms. BETZ: But also the ones that are like little houses, too, more of the 1920s buildings.

SIMON: Miss Betz, thank you very much.

Ms. BETZ: Mm-hmm. Thank you. Mm-hmm.

SIMON: Melanie Betz, architectural historian at the Alabama Historical Commission, which has just declared the state's historic gas stations places of peril.

(Soundbite of "Tiger in Your Tank")

Unidentified Man #2: I can raise your hood, I can change your coils, check your transmission fluid, give you the oil. I don't care what the people say, I got to put a tiger, you know, in your tank. ...(Unintelligible). There ain't but one thing left for you to do.

SIMON: Muddy Waters, "Tiger in Your Tank." Twenty-two minutes before the hour.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.