Chippewa & Macklind, South St. Louis, MO (in use)
For several years, I’ve been fascinated with the bat-wing buildings found during travels. I once mentioned “finding another one,” and my father filled me in that those were formerly Phillips 66 gas stations. It was easy to figure the era of the buildings; there is none more mid-century car-centric than those bat wings.
St. Charles Rock Road, St. John, MO (in use)
Having the Phillips 66 key did not help me track down any solid background information about the buildings. I was pretty much alone in my fascination for them, until my pal Darren Snow discovered my solitary hobby. He went through old St. Louis city and county directories from the early 1960s, and meticulously wrote down all Phillips 66 addresses. Much gas was used tracking down old gas stations.
Lucas & Hunt Road, Velda Village, MO (in use)
A few other like-minded folks were intrigued by my minor obsession, and began reporting back every time they found one. From East St. Louis to Hannibal, from Wisconsin to Indiana, the bat-wings were still out there. When not completely abandoned, they’re in use as some kind of car repair outfit. There’s no escaping the function of this very specific architecture.
North Lindbergh @ Hwy 70, St. Ann, MO (demolished)
I amassed a lot of photos of a lot of remaining 66 Canopies. If I had limitless free time, I’d dig them all up for this narrative. If someone wants to pay me to do something useful with those photos, I’d plow through years of negatives and files. But this being the real world, we’ll stick with a smattering of Bat Wings.
Old Halls Ferry Road, Moline Acres, MO (vacant)
I learned to accept not knowing much of anything about the wings, other than what could be observed from all the specimens found. But it did seem odd that such a widely circulated, corporate-sponsored architecture was so woefully overlooked. Via Internet, I could see someone’s restaurant menu collection, but nothing on Phillips 66’s mid-century look? How absurd.
But everything changed come spring 2005…
The Bat Wings landed on the cover of the Society for Commercial Archeology‘s magazine, with an 8-page article inside! The thrill of digesting writer Cliff Leppke’s detailed info on something that had long puzzled me was a dork’s delight… Gabba gabba we accept you, one of us, one of us!
To take financial advantage of the automobile revolution, Phillips 66 updated the look of their stations twice during the 1950s. Come 1960, they introduced “The New Look” of the “butterfly canopy,” a style they sold to station leaseholders as Harlequin. Designed by architect Clarence Reinhardt, “the canopy was a widely circulated symbol of architectural playfulness, (and) archival records indicate that Reinhardt was particularly inspired by early Los Angeles area drive-ins.”
The wings were designed to point into heavy traffic and convey to motorists a “distinctive look of action, busyness… a spacious, more appealing appearance.” The “propulsion age air flow design” featured an abundance of fluorescent lighting because now more drivers were out at night, plus this safety feature – along with the new vibrant colors – would appeal to women drivers. The populuxe Harlequin 66 became ubiquitous in and around the new suburban frontiers, those post-WW2 cities that rapidly developed just outside a traditional big city’s borders.
Highway 70 service road, Columbia, MO (vacant)
According to sociologists and Madison Avenue, America’s frenzied love affair with the automobile was more like a casual fling. “In 1968, Phillips began testing environmentally attuned ranch-style service stations. According to Phillips marketing engineer Cliff Sousa, ‘people’s attitudes about commercial architecture shifted.’ The gas station became a symbol not of progress but of what was wrong in American life.”
The arrival of the mobile home required taller canopies. The switch from full-service to self-service pumps required wider canopies to shelter consumers from the elements. “Phillips advised dealers to install mansard roofs on New Look stations, to repaint them with dark earthtone colors…” In less than a decade, the Phillips 66 look went from stiletto to earth shoe.
Once the 66 information damn burst, it became easier to find Bat Wing photos from across the nation. Roadside Architecture has a great page of Wings. The Kentucky Heritage Council put them in an Oblong Box category. What also emerges is a reverence for the double bat wing 66, and rightly so. Rock Hill, MO has just such an impressive creature, though the clock is ticking down to “time’s up.” That tale will be illustrated in Part 2.
RELATED: Phillips 66, Part 2