Vintage Photos: The Innovative Service Stations of Early Los Angeles


View showing the West-Way Super Service station located on the southwest corner of Western Avenue and Harold Way in Hollywood. (1933)

(first posted 8/4/2017)    In the early days of motoring, fuel, oil, and Model T parts could be found at village blacksmith shops, livery stables, and general stores. As more and more motorists took to the roads, specialized businesses opened to cater exclusively to the needs of the automobile. Early service stations in urban areas  were often appended to the street side of existing businesses, in newer, less developed regions, like Southern California, dedicated buildings sprang up on choice corner lots. Water and Power Associates, an industry nonprofit, has compiled a library of what these early LA pit stops looked like. Some were workaday, some were straight from the fancies of an architect, some were paragons of luxury, and some were just …odd. 


View showing a 4-pump Signal Service station in Glendale, California. Large signs read Auto Laundry – Signal Purr-Pull (1931)


View showing a Gilmore Gas station selling Blu-Green Gasoline. The clear glass globes at the top of gas pumps allowed the color of the gasoline to be seen. E.B. Gilmore jumped on this unique opportunity to become the first oil company to market gas by its color. Blu-Green and Red Lion Gas fueled the cars and imaginations of West Coasters from the ’20s to the early ’40s. (ca. 1929)


‘Full Service’ at Union Oil Company service station. (1931)


View of the Standard Stations, Inc. service station in Huntington Beach. A large oil field is seen in the background. (1937) This is undoubtedly looking South on Pacific Coast Highway, with the beach to the right of the frame.


View showing the Umbrella Super Service Station (Violet Ray) and its many services, 830 S. La Brea Ave. (1930s)


View showing the Calpet service station, with a Moorish-style roof, located across the street from the Cole House (and later the I. Magnin store), southeast corner of Wilshire and New Hampshire Avenue. (1930s)


View showing a General Petroleum Corporation Violet Ray gas station on North Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood. (1930)


A Union Service Station cyclist to the rescue at 4004 Wilshire Blvd. (1932)


View of Specification Motor Oil System service station on the southwest corner of Washington Blvd. and 8th Avenue. Apparently the “Specification Motoroil System” was a national chain that did not last too long [no records]. (ca. 1930s)


(View of the Royal Albatross, an airplane used as a service station, located on the eastern vertex of a narrow strip of land bordered by Ventura Boulevard, Ventura Place, and Laurel Canyon Boulevard. Gasoline pumps are set up under the wing spans. (ca. 1939)


You could gas up your car beneath the wings of a grounded airplane at Bob’s Air Mail Service Station on the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Cochran Ave. (1936)


The Hollywood-Vine Service Station and Parking Garage, with free parking provided for nearby establishments, including the Pig ‘n Whistle, Dyas Restaurant, and Hertz car rentals. Not only did attendants service a customer’s car and park it, they also took their laundry for dry-cleaning. (1930)


Life Magazine cover photo showing Gilmore Serve Yourself station where you could save 5¢ per gallon by filling the tank yourself. View is looking east on Beverly Boulevard. E. B. Gilmore appears to have invented the self-serve gas station. He created a “gas-a-teria” not far from Farmers Market where customers saved 5 cents per gallon by filling their own tanks. Those who preferred to have their gas pumped by “professionals” at the gas-a-teria sometimes got unusual service when young women on roller skates would glide to the pumps to gas the cars up. (1943)


Check your air, mister?” Nina Meloni, manager of the Victory Girls’ gas station, and Verda Curtis, putting air in tires, work at the modern service station at 8th and Alvarado Streets, during World War II. (May 14, 1942)


Postcard view shows gas prices advertised at a service station. Eight gallons for $1 with full service! (1941) This is now a Vernon Fuel Distributors station offering Regular for $2.74, per Google’s most recent Street View. Still heavily industrial, Alameda Street remains a major trucking corridor.


View showing an Associated Oil Company gas station whose premium gasoline sold under the Flying-A brand. Taking a cue from drive-in restaurants, the building has a flying-saucer awning and glowing centerpiece for added height and visibility. (ca. 1930s)


View showing Jack Colker’s 76 Station located on the southwest corner of ‘Little’ Santa Monica Blvd. and N. Crescent Drive in Beverly Hills. The Union 76 gas station was designed by architect Gin Wong of Pereira and Associates and completed in 1965. The design came earlier, though, and was meant for a very different location: in 1960, Wong designed the building to be part of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Its futuristic style was intended to complement the airport’s famous Theme Building. But since it didn’t work out with the overall LAX plan, this amazing building ended up as a gas station in Beverly Hills. (2012)


Gilmore Gasoline service station, 859 North Highland Ave. [Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #508, view from north.] The building became a Starbucks shortly before this photo was taken. Built and designed by R.J. Kadow in 1935, this Art Deco gas station was one of the original service stations for the Gilmore Oil Company. The station remained with the company until its merger with Mobil Oil in the 1940’s. It was later leased by Texaco. (2015)


All photos and most captions courtesy of Water and Power Associates.