Only a 30 minute drive west of Duluth, Minnesota on the edge of the St. Louis River is a little logging town in the North Woods called Cloquet. This town began as a group of small settlements around three sawmills: Shaw Town, Nelson Town and Johnson Town and today it has a population of a little over 12,000 people.
Many people would be very surprised to learn that this quiet little town has a unique tie to America’s greatest architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. This is the location of the only functioning gas station ever designed and built by Mr. Wright. It is also the only piece of Wright’s Broadacre city project ever to be constructed.
Back in 1952, Ray and Emma Lindholm commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build them a home on the south side of Cloquet. They named it Mantyla which is Finnish for “Home of the Pines”.
When Frank Lloyd Wright discovered that Mr. Lindholm was in the petroleum business, he mentioned that he was quite interested in gas station design. Wright first began working on a design for a standard prefabricated gas station in the 1920s. It was his hope to eliminate the frequent “eyesores” lining American highways and to develop a facility that would offer a variety of customer services in addition to the sale of fuel. Wright further expanded on this idea with a gas station design that he did in 1934 for his Utopian Broadacre City project.
The Lindholm’s loved their “home of the pines” and apparently that little conversation with Wright about gas stations stuck with Ray Lindholm. A few years later, when they decided to rebuild a Phillips 66 station, Mr. Lindholm reasoned “it was an experiment to see if a little beauty couldn’t be incorporated in something as commonplace as a service station” and he commissioned Wright to do the design.
Broadacre City was a framework for planning communities focused on physical, functional and visual relationships between rural existences and the city center.
The station opened in 1958 and attracted notice far beyond Cloquet with its unique 60 foot tall illuminated roof-top pylon, glass observation lounge and cantilevered copper canopy. A typical two bay gas station at the time only cost $5,000 to build, but Wright’s steel-canopied version with its copper roof cost $20,000.
The cantilevered canopy extends 32 foot out from the glass wall. The original plans called for overhanging gas pumps with hoses coming down from the canopy. Wright equated them to being like “mother’s milk” coming down from above. The hanging hoses would have allowed for free movement of the cars and eliminated the need for service islands, but local codes prohibited their installation.
The dangling hoses were a recurring design feature in Frank Lloyd Wright's gas stations plans. In 1927, he had drawn up plans with this same feature for a gas station to be constructed downtown Buffalo, New York. Those plans were finally put to use in 2014 when the station was built inside the Pierce Arrow Museum. Although it is a non-functional gas station, it features the overhead gas tanks and cost $1.3 million to build. You can see photos of that Frank Lloyd Wright Filling Station here.
The second floor observation deck was the area that Wright referred to as the “Waiting Station”. Stations at the time were mainly just places to get your gas and go. Wright saw the station as a cultural center, somewhere to meet a friend, get your car fixed and have cup of coffee while you waited.
In the garage’s work bays, skylights were located over the engine compartments of the cars giving very nice natural light to help the mechanics when working.
The use of ceramic tile walls, cypress wood trim, decorative planters and skylights in the service bays set this station apart and influenced the architecture of other gas stations throughout the country in the years that followed. Phillips Petroleum Company used several of Wright’s design principals in subsequent stations. The V-shaped canopy was copied at other locations along with the arrangement of service bays around the office and large canted windows.
Sadly, Wright never saw the completed gas station. While the R.W. Lindholm Service Station was completed the year before Wright died, he was also busy working on the Guggenheim Museum in New York during this time.
The R.W. Lindholm Service Station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
The Lindholm House now resides at Polymath Park in Acme, Pennsylvania, a 130 acre architectural park. By the summer of 2018, the home will be open for tours and you will even be able to spend the night in it.
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I am the 8th photographer in 4 generations of my family. Back in 2006, my husband accepted a job traveling and I jumped at the chance to go with him. We have spent the last 11+ years traveling the United States.