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Standardized Designs

Petroleum corporations embraced corporate packaging in the 1910s and adopted trademarks, brand names, and look-alike gas stations.  Chains were able to identify themselves to prospective customers with easily recognizable standardized gas stations that appeared the same regardless of the location.

Many "house" gas stations were prefabricated and followed a standardized design chosen by the oil company.  The standardized gas station quickly became a marketing tool because the public could easily identify the oil franchise by the appearance of its gas stations.  In addition to being easily identified, the standardized plans cost less to construct, since the same equipment and materials would be used for each structure.


Freitag's Pure Oil "English
Cottage" service station, c.1979.
Note the "Pure Oil Blue" chimney
pots and steeply pitched tile
roof. Courtesy of the Division
of Historic Preservation.
The Pure Oil Company was one of the first American corporations to use architecture as a corporate symbol.  In 1927 the company adopted a standard "English Cottage" design that was executed hundreds of times over the following decade.  The eclectic design was intended to characterize quaint charm, warmth, and a homey appearance.  The company was able to create a sense of corporate identity and market a carefully crafted image based on standardization of all aspects of design, including signage, logos, buildings, and "Pure Oil Blue" color schemes.

The Phillips Petroleum Company also used a standardized "English Cottage" design in the Midwest.  Stations were shaped like houses to fit into the residential neighborhoods, but had an assertive orange- and-green-shingled roof designed to attract attention and a distinctive central chimney with a "P" insignia.

Roadside Highlight: Freitag's Pure Oil, Monroe


Freitag's Pure Oil "English
Cottage
" service station, c.1979.
Courtesy of the Division
of Historic Preservation.
Freitag's Pure Oil "English Cottage" service station (listed in the National Register January 15, 1980) was constructed by C.W. Freitag in 1929.  It is located at 1323 Ninth Street in Monroe, on the edge of a residential neighborhood; typical of the house or cottage style stations.   Freitag's Pure Oil service station follows a standardized plan used by the Pure Oil Company as a marketing device.  The station operated into the late 1970s.

The building is divided into three sections.  The office portion juts out slightly from the front and side of the buildings and is visually set off by a steeply pitched, side-gabled roof with end chimneys.  A rear wing with a flat roof and a one-stall "Lubridome" (service bay) at the side, also with a steeply pitched roof complete the building.   The brick exterior is painted white to contrast with the standard "Pure Oil Blue" tile roof.  The chimneys are capped with "Pure Oil Blue" chimney pots.  Exterior ornamentation includes an arched entrance and adjacent window, an oriel window with a copper top and base, a copper hood sheltering the entrance, decorative wrought iron lamps and railings, and copper gutters and downspouts.  The downspouts are embossed with the Pure Oil monogram.  The building is no longer serving as a gas station and is currently housing a business.

Interested in learning more about Wisconsin gas stations? Check out the new Wisconsin Public Television program that looks at vintage gas stations as icons of architecture, economics and pop culture. Fill'er Up: The Glory Days of Wisconsin Gas Stations is a collaborative effort of the Wisconsin Historical Society and Wisconsin Public Television.
And watch for the Fill 'er Up Companion Book  from WHS Press by Jim Draeger and Mark Speltz. This book visits 60 Wisconsin gas stations still standing today and will be available in 2008.
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