3801 14th Avenue
Rock Island's 100 Most Significant Unprotected Structures, 2009
One of the few remaining gas stations portraying a design aesthetic from the high-style age of service stations
Architect / Builder
Gas Station History
Early motorists purchased their gasoline by the bucket from a dry goods or hardware store. The first gas stations were simple sheds or shacks with a gas pump. By the 1910s, oil companies created formulaic buildings for the distribution of their product. Corporate logos and slogans were created to help the public identify with the company. Companies also began to diversify the range of products and services available to the public. Maintenance and repair services turned the filling station into the all-around car-care station. The standardization of the 1910s gave way to the eclecticism of the 1920s. Oil companies striving to make their product identifiable led to the creation of exotic, remarkable buildings created to look like Greek temples, Chinese pagodas, and Swiss chalets. In the 1930s and 1940s, the eclectically styled gas stations of the previous decade diminished as a new, "modern" design aesthetic—reflecting public fascination with images of the future—swept through the industry. Stations emphasized clean surfaces and streamlined curves. Art Deco or Art Moderne style gas stations became popular symbols of the new machine age. By the 1950s, a functional aesthetic began to prevail in the construction of gas stations across the country, and the attachment to design began to disappear.
The Skelly Service Station, although founded in 1945, was a throw-back in design to the themed stations of the 1930s. Tudor Revival residential structures were popular throughout the 1930s, so it is to be expected that popular residential designs would be translated to small commercial enterprises. Tudor Revival design was a corporate brand for Skelly, as variations of this style were found as service stations throughout the country. On this building Tudor Revival influences are seen in the half timber and stucco gables and the diamond-paned glass. Amazingly, this service station still has its original window frames with upper glass transoms, brick base surround and double door bays. It also still services automobiles, although it no longer possesses gas pumps. The diamond shape in the gable held the Skelly logo.
The local Skelly franchise was opened in 1945 by Sam P. Christopher. It was purchased by 1949 by Earl Showalter. Because of the difficulty patrons had in accessing the station off 38th Street, he had plans for expansion to the east, but they did not come to fruition. The Skelly Service Station hired many students from the nearby Augustana Seminary to work the gas pumps. Mr. Showalter operated the station until he passed away in 1968. During his tenure as owner, Mr. Showalter served as president of the Hilltop Business Association.