FOUND: Another Phillips 66 Bat Wing

Page Ave. & Vandeventer
North St. Louis, MO

I was tooling down Vandeventer, and was captivated by the building, above (if anyone has info on it, please do share). Only when deciding to stop for more photos of it did I finally see what was across the street…

A previously unknown (to me) former Phillips 66, “bat wing” edition!!
The delight factor gets upped because it’s actually in use. Sure, it’s tricked out with all kinds of multi-colored lights and handmade plywood signs, but that proves its adaptability, and all the extra gewgaws don’t detract from the overall effect.

This Phillips 66 retains all of its original structure, doing business as Sarah Easton Poultry Fish & Egg Market. A small percentage of the avalanche of signage did tout the corner grocery aspect, but the main draw is food. Good-size lunch menu with BBQ, fresh coon and duck, “Fresh Fish, You Buy, We Fry” (click above photo to enlarge for details). What was once the car repair bay is now the take-out counter and kitchen. And there’s plenty of parking.

The majority of 66 Bat Wing’s still in use are in older, Blacker parts of town. There is one still in use as a car repair station at Chippewa & Mackland, in an older, Whiter part of South St. Louis. But the racial and financial politics of North City & County keeps the typical retail/residential developer from plowing everything over, thus allowing buildings like this to remain standing. And since they’re just standing there, why not use them?

I adore this organic form of “adaptive re-use.” It’s not planned, philosophized or politicized by university students and their professors in 100-page treatise that city planners will never bother to read. It just happens because everyone’s left alone to morph naturally. And a building previously designed in the late 1950s to purposely accommodate cars is still going to work in the 21st century, no matter what the new contents. Another case in point being…

Missouri Avenue & 6th Street
East St. Louis, IL
This one is not a new find, just one that’s taken awhile to get proper photos of. And while waiting for that moment to happen, the place finally closed for good.

This Phillips 66 became a catch-all quick shop and liquor store, but the owner spent a lot of time personalizing the site. He turned the repair bays into retail space, covered the original concrete block with stone, created stone planters around the bases of the metal, lattice-work columns and formed an architectural salvage museum…

As nearby buildings were demolished, the owner snagged them for what had to be purely sentimental reasons. The red granite columns (above, center) came from the Tresh Neon Sign Co. building, while the rest of the pieces were taken from the former East St. Louis Public Library. Both buildings were within several blocks of the gas station, and torn down in the late 1980s.

It’s assumed the owner has since died, which is why the place went from “For Sale Or Lease” to simply “For Sale” (above photo).

Odd Coincidence: Shortly after taking these East STL photos, I got an e-mail from a man near Kansas City, MO who had just seen my post about the Rockhill Double Bat Wings going down. Seems he’d love to buy one of these buildings to rehab and re-use. Did I know of any available?

It also reminded me of other readers’ comments that a Bat Wing would convert into a killer bicycle repair/sales shop or a hot dog stand. These uniquely shaped and detailed buildings do capture ones imagination, and the ones still working proves they’re easy to convert into whatever function you need it to serve.

Phillips 66, Part One
Phillips 66, Part Two
R.I.P. Phillips 66

R.I.P. Phillips 66

Here’s the backstory on one of my favorite buildings in St. Louis County.

This morning, I got word from Brett that dirt was being aggressively moved about the former Phillips 66 site at Manchester Road & Rock Hill.

By mid-afternoon, Rick sent me cell phone pictures showing the white, lattice-work towers were now horizontal.

The double-wing Phillips 66 sat abandoned and waiting for an inappropriately long time. And then it came down in less than 5 hours. I suppose a swift demise is preferable to a slow, painful one. But it’s still shocking.

I cut out of work a little early to view the remains, and pay last respects. Even though I knew what to expect, it still hurt.

The demolition crew had swept the shattered pieces of the building into 2 piles that seem much smaller than they should be. At this moment, they had left behind all of the towers. Considering how quickly the crew is demolishing the entire southwest corner of this intersection, these pieces will be gone by the end of day Friday.

Above, it looks like a leg bone sticking out of an open grave. OK, a little dramatic, but these kinds of things can happen at a wake.

The last business in this building was Windshields & More, and they kept the place in perfect condition. After they were made to leave, it was shocking to realize just how strict they were with maintenance. Within 3-4 months, all the white paint started peeling, with rust seeping through. The royal blue trim grew dingy. But all the exhaust fume erosion couldn’t mar the lines of a building that always looked like a bird starting its ascent.

And now, the bird’s wings are mangled in the concrete dust.

My digital card filled up fast, and I stood in the heat with vehicles roaring all around, deciding if I should walk back to the car to get another card and continue on. Then I got lost in lengthy contemplation and sadness, finally broken by an SUV honking in my ear. Coming back to reality, I realized I didn’t have the stomach to finish this task. After documenting the crime scene, I’d paid proper respect to a lovely building, and once the rush hour traffic clears, and the sun sets, the Double Bat Wing can finally rest in peace.

Phillips 66, Part 2

Manchester & McKnight, Rock Hill, MO
On the southwest corner of this ugly and congested intersection is a trim-line geometric bird waiting for flight.

It was built in 1963 as a Phillips 66 gas station. It was a rare species of their New Look line: The Double Canopy. Only the suburban intersections with the greatest promise of heaviest traffic got Bat Wing Deuce.

In the early 1960s, Rock Hill fit that description; today, times that by 150. This intersection is littered with unsightly power lines, traffic lights and signs, clunky after-thought storefronts and new-fangled retail devoid of personality. In the midst of the chaos is this light, delicate space age bird.

From an ariel view, you can see the bat wings, see how startling its appearance must have been back in the day, and how utterly alien it has become today.

I’ve spent years trying to get the proper picture of the building, a way to convey its movement in stillness. I put a wide-angle lens on the film camera, and stood in the middle of the intersection on an early Sunday morning… less chance of being plowed down by angry SUVs. But I just can’t capture the essence. A light pole or warped blacktop always mars the airy lines.

My mind’s eye always erases the ugliness around it, and all I see are those delicate lines. To my eyes, it’s a beautiful sight. To other drivers, it’s lots of honking because I missed the light turning green.

After Phillips 66 vacated, a chain called Windshields & More took over, and it was impeccably maintained. That indicates the owners appreciated their unique and functional building. Once while taking pictures of the place during business hours, one of the younger employees crossed the intersection to ask what I was doing. I told him I was taking some more in a series of photos of the place.
He gave me a queer look, and asked, “Why?”
“Because it’s a gorgeous building,” I said. “Look at it. There’s no other building like it.”
The kid stares back at it, squinting as he sees the building rather than just the place he works.
He finally says, “Huh. It is kinda weird, ain’t it,” and then lopes back across the street.

Because I love this building, that means it Must Come Down. My adoration equals destruction; it’s a strange Architectural Super Power I’m cursed with. I’d much rather have the ability to levitate or will a Triple Crown winner. But anyway…

Rock Hill is one of those land-locked municipalities. They’ve used up all the land, and have no new ways of generating income other than raising taxes or demolishing existing commercial and residential properties to build newer, bigger retail. Rock Hill decided both the northwest and southwest corners of this intersection should be in the hands of Novus Development. So, Windshields & More cleared out, and the Double Bat Wing has sat vacant for almost a year while Novus drops the ball.

In the Spring 2005 issue of SCA, Cliff Leppke wrote: “Today, original Harlequin stations are a scarce resource on the commercial landscape.” The first week of February 2006, the heavy machinery moved in to bust up concrete. Soon, they’ll bust up the rare Double Wing Bird, my El Condor Pasa…
“Away, I’d rather sail away, like a swan that’s here and gone.”

RELATED: Phillips 66, Part 1

Phillips 66, Part 1

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

Goodbye, Norma Jean

On Tuesday, October 18th, Billy Idol disappeared from the window, and excitement brewed within when I saw signs of renovation (above). I saw lamp shades; will Kabbaz add lighting to the Marilyn Gallery? I looked forward to the revamped unveiling of a new Marilyn.

This afternoon, signs say the candle burned out long before the legend ever did…
The black curtain backdrop has fallen to reveal freshly painted red walls, light fixtures, tables, chairs and a man busy on a ladder. Someone has taken over the storefront. That’s not surprising. With major new retail across the street, these old storefronts are now desirable property. If I could sit in the Starbucks’ drive-thru and stare at Marilyn paintings, it would make sense for a business to take advantage of that kind of visability.
I should have knocked on the door to pepper the Ladder Man with questions, but I was too sad and too shocked to do so. I walked away with a funeral dirge in my head and a heavy heart.
So was Billy Idol’s rebel yell Kabbaz’s comment on being evicted? Will a new shrine spot be found? How do I mend my broken heart?

With more bad news, of course.
Today I got word that this Lustron home that I toured in June was demolished on October 18th. Details coming as soon as my anger subsides.

And since my little BELT world was taking so many hits on this Sunday, I decided to really wallow in despair and view the last bits of the Northland carcass. An update is coming soon.

2005 has NOT been a good year for my favorite modern architecture in St. Louis. Death to Lustrons, Northland, Busch Stadium

…if I adore it, it’s coming down. It’s not paranoia, just fact. See the building above? It’s always been a glamorous favorite of mine, so of course it’s coming down any day now. The intersection of Rock Hill & Manchester is getting a massive makeover, so this gorgeous example of roadside jet set Route 66 architecture is toast.
I’ll cover this story in greater photographic detail in the near future. But right now, I’m too sad and angry to care.