Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 1, 2019

Art Deco Ice Cream Cone Gas Station, Tucson, Arizona

Most travelers require some degree of trip planning. Without at least a general itinerary, it’s easy to overlook important local attractions, not to mention missing flights or a place to spend the night.

Still, a bit of flexibility gives you time to wonder, “What’s over there?” and — if you’re fortunate — have the chance to learn something unexpected and interesting.

So it happened in Tucson this summer late in the 8th day of our visit. We’d covered a wide swath of the city, starting with a tour of historic buildings on the University of Arizona campus, which I wrote about at this link.

Arizona Old Main Brad Nixon 5974 680

From there, we ranged north through both commercial and residential areas of Tucson, and made our way up into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. We wanted to have a sense of what semi-rural/semi-suburban life’s like in neighborhoods of detached houses scattered amongst the chaparral. Many of them had views looking south over the city below. The landscaping may look different in your neighborhood.

Tucson landscaping Brad Nixon 6004 680

After a stop for a late lunch, recovering from the desert heat, we had … no clear plan. What else to see?

It was The Counselor who suggested driving back toward downtown. Earlier in the trip, she’d spotted a building she wanted to photograph, although at the time we’d been headed to a different destination. Now there was time.

We drove south on Stone Ave. through residential neighborhoods, then into an area of mixed commercial and small-scale industrial buildings on the northern edge of downtown.

One thing that’ll attract your attention in a number of Tucson areas are the murals. Here’s “Roadrunner Cycling” along Stone Avenue by Joe Pacag, who’s created a number of large-scale, humorous commentaries on the southwest.

Tucson mural Pagac-Nixon 6045 680

While The Counselor photographed her building, I focused on a nearby structure that fascinated me.

Vintage gas Brad Nixon 6047 680

Almost certainly at one time a gas station: corner location; canopy arranged in a way that would allow two rows of gas pumps; the curving central office area and — on either side — facades that almost certainly had been garage doorways into service areas.

Having just visited the Center for Creative Photography on the campus of the university a few days before, I was inspired to attempt a black and white image as a sort of homage to Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, whose archives are housed in the Center. 

Vintage gas Brad Nixon 6056 680

What Was It?

Some later research told me I was correct: a gas station, designed in about 1936 by prolific Tucson architect, Cecil H. Moore (1913-2009). Moore designed more than 350 buildings in Tucson, including residential and commercial structures in a variety of styles and construction techniques. He did a lot of work developing residential neighborhoods, including the prestigious El Encanto section of Tucson, now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tucson deco Brad Nixon 6041 680

Among his commercial buildings were at least two Art Deco-styled gas stations, including the one on Stone Ave. It’s commonly referred to as the “ice cream cone gas station.”

Tucson deco M Vincent 5416 680

It was operated by a succession of major petroleum brands until it was converted to its current office use in about 1981.

I’ve found earlier photos of it, online, including this one by the influential photographer of roadside architecture, John Margolies (1940-2016), from about 1979.

J. Margolies LC-DIG-mrg-00013 680

That photo shows some of the changes made to the building in subsequent years. The original office entrance is in the center of the curved portion, the low portion of the building to the left has not yet been constructed, and the service bay door on the right is still present.

Note: The U. S. Library of Congress has acquired more than 11,000 of Mr. Margolies’ architectural photos, which influenced contemporary architecture and preservation. More information at this link: https://www.loc.gov/rr/print/res/723_marg.html

Here is a link to a 1968 photograph by Richard Janasko, showing different branding, but also the original configuration more clearly.

Everything Changes

When you see something curious, stop to look at it. It may not be there next time you visit, or it may be altered beyond recognition. You can always go looking for information about what it is afterward if there’s no one present you can ask. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Eventually, everything must go.

I’m glad I caught the ice cream cone gas station before it entirely melted away in the desert heat.

The building is at the intersection of N. Stone Ave. and W. 4th St., Tucson, Arizona.

Licensable, high resolution versions of some editorial use photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Shutterstock.com. Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2019. Station detail © M. Vincent 2019, used by kind permission.

“Roadrunner Cycling” mural © Joe Pagac. No commercial use without permission of the artist.

J. Margolies 35mm transparency is public domain for non-commercial fair use: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by John Margolies, reproduction number LC-DIG-mrg-00013.

Information for this post retrieved on Oct. 31 2019 from a variety of sources, including wikipedia.org, tucson.com, and http://www.roadarch.com/gas/azdeco.html. A publication with some information about Mr. Moore is Nequette, Anne M., A Guide to Tucson Architecture, University of Arizona, 2002, which I did not consult for this article.


Responses

  1. Such fun Deco architecture. I’m glad it was preserved. Interesting to learn about Moore and Margolies.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I now realize that I have had a severe under appreciation for the beauty of gas stations. I really like your deco cone stations!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This gas station looks indeed like something cold with an ice cream on top. Very original.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very interesting gas station!!

    Like

  5. Great art deco stuff! I love these kinds of places. Please check out my blog on unique attractions in Asia. chipryan.com. Please feel free to comment!

    Like


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