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Gas Station Series: Three 1940s and 1950s Facilities in Tacoma Washington

The lead image in today’s installment in the Vintage Gas Station Series is a view of grand opening day of Edward Lee’s Shell station located at the corner of Division and Yakima Avenues in Tacoma, Washington. The original extra-wide photo has been reduced in size for publication; the original picture contains a pair of spotlights at the edge of both Avenues for use during the evening hours and a long line of automobiles waiting to get into the facility on either side.

Shell regular was selling for 25.2 cents a gallon and premium for 27.2 cents, and visitors received a free set of drinking glasses with a fill-up. The neighborhood has changed quite a bit over the years, although a modern Shell filling station is on the street corner today.

This Associated service station is visible during a quiet moment in November of 1948, at the corner of Pacific Avenue and 56th Street in the City. Signs on the building include “Clean Comfort Stations…For Baby Too,” Aero Batteries, Federal Tires, Tydol Motor Oil, and Veedol “Safety” lubrication.

We finish off for today at Pacific Avenue in Tacoma on April 5, 1950, at a Mobilgas station operated by Nez Ducharme & Sons that includes an open-air “Depot Service” area visible on the far-right of the photo. The Pacific Motor Co. repair garage operated by Boyd … is visible behind the Ducharme facility.

View over 250 other images in the Vintage Gas Station Series here. Share with us what you find of interest in these photographs courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library.


23 responses to “Gas Station Series: Three 1940s and 1950s Facilities in Tacoma Washington

  1. Of course there a number of interesting things to see here,but the first one to catch my eye was on the extreme left side of the lead photo. I spotted the large generator powered mobile spotlight. I remember when those were used as a way to draw attention to the opening s of all sorts in the 1940’s and ’50’s including grand openings or major movie premieres. Thanks for posting this and jogging my memory of the halcion days of my youth.

    • Wonder if any still exist. Would be a fun restoration project, especially useful at concours d’elegance held at night–or for just frightening the neighborhood. Tow it around with a WWII Jeep or a an old pickup truck.

    • Also used in the ’60’s and they were effective, at least with our family. We sometimes found ourselves searchlight hunting in LA where they could be seen for miles.

  2. David,

    Great pictures again !!

    In the 3rd photograph, on the far right is either a 1947 or ’48 FRAZER. In the same picture, on the far left, is either a 1949 or ’50 KAISER.

    • Also in the 3rd picture, on the far right, next to the FRAZER, is a 1946 or ’47 DeSOTO Custom Suburban with roof-rack and driver’s spot-light.

  3. The Shell station in the first photo, neighborhood and all, could’ve easily been here in Omaha when I was a kid. It was a station like this (Only a Mobil) where I spotted a really early `65 Olds 98 at the pumps in about late July, `64! Our Olds dealer was on the same block, so obviously it had just arrived and was being serviced.

  4. 1933 Terraplane sedan to the right of the Associated pumps in the second picture. I think it’s a Six rather than an Eight judging by the apparent length of the hood.

  5. Like Tom, I too remember those “carbon arc” searchlights. As a kid, at night, it always meant something big was going on, and we’d ride our bikes to find out, sometimes miles away. I read, those things can be seen for 30 miles. Research shows, a company named Sperry made these, with GE generators being turned by flathead 6 cylinders. Many were old military surplus. We were told not to look into them, looking at them was like looking at a welder. Apparently, they are tricky to operate, to have the carbon rods feed properly. In the bottom pic, old faithful, but tired 39-40 Ford pickup with big wood bumper for pushing cars.

    • Howard, I saw one of these years ago. It was powered by a flat-head Ford V8. Still had the Army paint inside the engine cover.

  6. Love the old service station pictures. And the signage that always accompanies the old photos. Some might say clutter, but to me they are bygone works of art.
    In the 1st shot, a bunch of keeper cars. If no one beats me to the call, I will take the ’49-’50 olds.
    Look as if some roofing happening in the background on the steep rooftop. Thank you but ‘no’ to that job.

    • Looks like the white-uniformed Associated station attendant with service cap inside the office might be talking with the owner of the ’46 Ford (work or tires perhaps?).

  7. Kleig lights were invented by John Kleigl. Kliegl Brothers Universal Electric Stage Lighting Company was founded in 1896 and grew to be the largest stage lighting company in the world. The company closed in the 1990s. In the early days of spotlights, the name “Klieg light” became synonymous with any ellipsoidal reflector spotlight.

  8. A few years ago the Tacoma Historical Society got together with a bunch of local clubs and collectors to identify all the forgotten car-related sites in town — dealers, gas stations, repair shops. Then one evening, with the cooperation of the current owners of the various properties, the collectors brought their cars to the appropriate locations, Studebakers to the site of the old Studebaker dealer, Packards to the Packard dealer, and so on. Except for the pouring rain, it made a wonderful evening to stroll around town and see how things were laid out long ago. I don’t recall that any of these stations were featured, but I could have missed them.

    • You gott’a love free enterprise and competition in our open markets. Check the huge “Go Farther With” Signal Gas billboard across the street staring down at the MobilGas station customers and owner of the Mobil station! I bet there is a Signal gas station (out of view of this photo view) just below and slightly to the left of the billboard. Likewise, out of sight, notice the pair of BACK sides of illuminated billboards just above the Mobil station to “Humble” the Signal station across the street 🙂 War of The Billboards!

      Say, what is that “Smokey Stover” elevated observation booth on the massive support pole in the left rear of the property? Is there a railroad switching yard behind the fences back there? Pretty ugly sight lines all around that gas station.

      That old Grocery building has an enormous and very ugly water tank on its roof (fire sprinkler system inside perhaps?).

  9. Love the Streamline Moderne style of the Shell and particularly the Associated station buildings. The ’33 Terraplane parked next to the latter might well be an eight cylinder, a hot car on the order of the Ford V8.

  10. Klieg Lights are the Ancestor of WW- 2 Vintage “Search Lights” as the WW-2 version has a much higher “Candlepower “output! The original Kliegs were designed for theater, circus and auditorium events, but Also used aboard Marine & Riverine vessels. The term: ” Lime -Light” is also used, because Lime was added to the Carbon Arc “sticks” to improve and increase its intensity of illumination, in the Visible Spectrum ! The power for them is: Higher Voltage, approx.: 100 Volts D.C., from the older Edison DC systems and later , from D.C. portable Generators. They were originally used in (Steinmetz) Street-lighting. WW-1 and WW -2 utilized them to shoot down airplane bombers. Originally cheap on the WW-2 War Surplus Market , many Car Dealers used them to attract customers, especially at New Model intro’s . Popular engines for the DC Generator were Continental Red Seal engines & Ford V- 8 V-8 60 ( ’37 – ’40 cars ) engines The Generator & Search Light “Sets” were done by G.E., Westinghouse & Sperry They were typically pulled in tandem , by Army Trucks. Google: ” Bob’s Searchlight Page” for some exciting Los Angeles History on them! Pennies on the dollar, in 1946, $ 150,000 & UP! for a working Set, NOW! Edwin W.

    • The original 1941-1945 Army Anti-Aircraft searchlights were 60″ diameter parabola first surface aluminum mirror arc lamps. Multiple panel Herculite tempered glass pie-slice glass panels covered the lamp from the elements. The 60″ were mobile ground units with nominal D.C. power 90 volts at 140 amps from the separate trailered generator set. Most of the 30″ were for aircraft carrier operations (USN). The two contractors supplying complete “systems” were Sperry and General Electric. Hercules and Continental in-line liquid cooled sixes were used for the huge 60″ multi-million candle power search lights and their companion selsyn drive audio tracking mechanisms (manual aiming was possible for quick sighting of aircraft and then auto tracking could be engaged in the original military package of dual axis remote control). They both had trailered platforms for the lamps with interconnecting D.C. power cabling and separate selsyn drive remote controls with tripod directional “listening” microphones . Both brands of generators were silenced to a great degree, but the G.E.s were amazingly quiet in their original configuration. Sunray Lighting of Culver City, CA had the largest commercial fleet of reliable 60″ arc searchlights (painted bright yellow with red or black lettering) in Southern California. Some were mounted tandem on flatbed trucks ready to roll out to sites for one or two-nighter advertising (grand openings, film premiers, etc.). Their lamp/generator trailered sets could be seen towed around the cities during the day with the two trailer rigs behind pickup trucks to their destinations needed in the evenings. FilmAd Corp. had a raggedy fleet of (white with black lettering) lamps and generators that always had to be towed out many days in advance. All these post war units had their remote controls removed and were simply set up for oscillating lateral motion by simple motor at base gear. A few complete systems are used in demos by WWII military history units. The arc lamp carbons (positive and negative) were auto feed with manual initial arc strike and setting after stabilizing. Negative carbon rod was smaller diameter used inside the lamp housing, positive rod was quite large and stuck out through the glass covering through a port. Color temperature was very high around 9,000-10,000 Kelvin (light bluish), not suitable for any form of color photo or video lighting. Sunray had largest supply of military high grade carbon rods which they sold to other firms around the country. The purity of “b urn” of the military carbons was noticeably smoother than ordinary commercial (cheaper) carbons that caused flicker. An operator sighting port on side of lamp was smoked glass to observe the arc flame safely and fine tune the auto feeding to optimum. Sunray had a complete service shop and technicians to service and repair their own and other customers’ gear. They also reproduced all the lamp arc feed replaceable bronze cast components and had a substantial mail order parts business for years. William Stewart and John Tyson were owners of Sunray Lighting.

  11. Judging by all the directional arrows on that sign post on the corner, this must have been the hub of the Tacoma universe – anywhere you wanted to go, you could start from here. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen seen such long snoots like those on the suspended traffic signal. Perhaps that was to prevent the weak bulbs available at the time from being washed out by the bright sunlight? And I don’t believe I’ve ever seen “point two cent” gas prices before either.

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