clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Frank Lloyd Wright, Master of Gas Station Design

Drivers will pass by innumerable gas stations during road trips this upcoming three-day weekend, but unless their itinerary takes them to Northern Minnesota, chances are they won't be see this rare roadside project from Frank Lloyd Wright. This singular gas station in Cloquet, Minnesota, boasting a glass-walled observation deck and 32-foot copper cantilevered canopy, looks like retro-future gone right, a beautiful if odd structure that would be spoiled by racks of cheap snacks and cigarettes. The oddity is the only finished part of Frank Lloyd Wright's utopian Broadacre City, according to CityLab, a massive suburban development Wright refined for decades up until his death in 1959.

Wright designed the station in 1956 for the Lindholm Oil Company after designing a home for company owner Ray Lindholm. Seeing a chance to evolve gas station design—the architect had worked over the concept since the '20s—he commissioned Wright, paying what was then an astronomical sum of $20,000. While Wright never built another filling station, the triangular canopy at in Cloquet would be copied by Philips 66 at other locations.

Construction was supervised by his apprentice, Robert Pond (Wright was working on the Guggenheim at the time). On the 50th anniversary of the station, Pond told the Star-Tribune the site was ideal.

"You come over the hill there, and there's that gas station right on the corner. It was perfect," said Pond. "Especially when they first put the copper roof on, it glowed! Of course, then we treated it to turn it green."

Wright initially thought gas stations would be the civic hubs of the future, and Broadacre, since families would live on large, spread out tracts that suggested a even more sprawling suburban layout (not necessarily such a far-fetched concept, since Google is planning to rewire telephone booths to create urban info hubs). He wanted to eliminate "eyesores" lining the American highway, but his plan never took off.

The station at 202 Cloquet Avenue, which Lindholm's descendants recently decided to sell, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and can still be visited. Fans can also visit the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum in Buffalo and see a recreation of a Wright Gas Station design from the '20s. The copper-clad structure features s second-story waiting and observation room complete with a fireplace and copper roof, a refined room for waiting while your vehicle was refueled.

50 Shades of Gray: Matching Concrete and the Challenges of Restoring Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple [Curbed]
The Organic Beauty of Frank Lloyd Wright's Graycliff [Curbed]
"Lost" Frank Lloyd Wright Home Rediscovered in Milwaukee [Curbed]
Frank Lloyd Wright's Lone Star Style: $3M Gets You This Pool-Hugging Usonian Upgrade [Curbed]