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Death Valley Gasoline, Food and Accommodations for Tourists

Death Valley is located in Eastern California near the Nevada border and despite its scenic beauty, it is both the hottest and driest area in the US, in addition, it is also the lowest point in the country at 282 feet below sea level. The combination of all of these factors turned it into a tourist attraction as soon as reliable automobiles and modern roads were constructed.

Baker, California, a small town just south of Death Valley is located on Route 15 and has long been a base for travelers visiting the attraction. The opening of nearby Route 66 between Needles and Barstow in the twenties brought many more visitors to the region. Today we take look at three facilities that catered to visitors in the area.

The late twenties lead image of the Death Valley Inn located in Baker appears to be a promotional photo with one of the popular Harley Earl designed 1927-’29 La Salles in the view with an attendant and dog in front of the gas pump islands. Standard Red Crown and Ethyl gasoline were available under the attached roof on the front of the Inn.

You can also view two-hundred more vintage service stations here. The photos are courtesy of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Big Blue Gas and Cabins Baker, Nevada 1930s

  • Dad Fairbanks the Proprietor Big Blue is seen posing at the front of his facility that sold Standard Red Crown and Ethyl gasoline. Tires and tubes were sold and serviced and some repair work was done at the attached garage on the right.
  • .
  • And finally we have an elevated view of Charles F. Brown’s Chevron Gas Station and Cafe with a view of the desert scenery behind the facility.

Charles Brown Chevron Gas and Cafe Baker, California

15 responses to “Death Valley Gasoline, Food and Accommodations for Tourists

  1. I often wonder when I travel west why places like this “can’t” work anymore and the motoring public only has chain filling stations and restaurants to do business with. These are some very nice shots as all of the photos share here are, Thank you for all your effort.

  2. The Big Blue façade leads one to assume that the signage panels are made of plywood (which, of course, is commonly available today). According to Wikipedia, however, plywood only became widely available starting in 1928 which implies that Big Blue was either constructed later than 1928 or the materials used for the signs was something other than plywood.

    • I think what we are seeing here is sized canvas with hand-painted lettering, instead of plywood. More commonly used as floor coverings but in the right conditions just as suitable.

      I was beginning to think that the DVI had outhouses off to the left margin, but on seeing the label for “Ladies” on the main building, these must have been precursors to reality TV “tiny house” cabins. Folks must have been shorter or leaner back then…

  3. I particularly like Big Blue. He has it all. From cabins to a dining room, Greyhound tickets and anything for your car.

  4. On an ordinary day there would probably have been half a dozen cars with steaming radiators gathered at any of these places. Those of us who love old cars can easily forget the days when a car could overheat not because there was something broken, but just because cars routinely did that.
    I remember that the highway department used to put containers of water along the roadside on steep hills. On hot days you’d see lines of cars pulled over, their hoods up and their radiators belching steam — not just on hills.

  5. Based on my admittedly small collection of photos, I’ll guess that the LaSalle in the first photo is a 1928 Fisher-body sedan. The fender-mounted parking lamps eliminate 1927, and the lack of either a molding at the hood hinge or splash-panel compartments rules out 1929.

    • I was wrong; the LaSalle is indeed a 1929 model. Some of the photos I used for comparison were misdated 1929 but were actually 1930, as a bit of further study clearly showed.

  6. My buddy and I went through Death Valley to Pahrump in May. Fascinating place. Lonely and desolate. No sign of these establishments that I remember. Not much traffic either.

  7. Last foto… Portico furthest away, left to right… ’47-8 Buick, ’51-2 Buick
    Next portico, hood up GM intermediate sedan… ’36 to ’40
    Between Buildings… ’41-2,6,7,8,early’49 Mopar sedan
    Nearest building…’49 Ford, ’50 Chevy Fleetline, ’50 Pontiac Streamliner, and finally pre-war custom
    Ford 3 window coupe-shaved deck.
    Interesting to me, the man standing there in long shirtsleeves with a tie, the station attendants – short sleeves, smart; also the Buicks must’ve been local because any distance traveler would’ve carried a waterbag hanging on the hood or grille for the unknown emergency, God , forbid, as Richard alluded to above. Love the fotos. Thanks, David .

  8. As usual the old motor site is the best.
    To travel down history roads with awesome pictures reminds me of being a kid a long time ago.
    The research you folks do is number one .
    Thanks for the great data.
    As simple as some of the photos are there were the good old days compared to the insane hustle of today and crime that runs amuck on today’s roads.

  9. I grew up and still live near Death Valley. There were a lot of facades like the one at the Big Blue that were built from boards and then covered with canvas. Charles Brown owned about everything in the area . He was quite an entrepreneur. If you were a traveler anywhere from Baker to Pahrump or in Death Valley Charles Brown was going to get some of your money one way or the other. The malts at the fountain were always an awesome treat if we could convince Dad to go in there when we were in Baker. He was more fond of the Charles Brown owned “Cone Taco” across the street. They had the most awesome chili dogs ever. Note the economy overnight rental rooms in the background at the Death Valley Inn. They were about big enough for a bed and a pretty common size for rooms in the desert at that time.

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