Fueled for the future
Three historic Phillips 66 gas stations have new lives.
What’s old is always cool again in Tulsa, especially when it comes to preserving historic spaces.
Several business owners and artists have stayed true to Tulsa’s oil-capital aesthetic and cultural claim to Route 66 by refurbishing 1920s- and ’30s-era Phillips 66 filling stations.
Phillips Petroleum Co. created the stations throughout the country in the late 1920s with the Cotswold Cottage design, according to the U.S. National Park Service. The small cottage structures had home-like features, such as chimneys, to help them feel like part of the neighborhood. By the early 1930s, nearly 7,000 of these gas stations existed throughout the country. In 1934, Tulsa had as many as 23 Phillips 66 stations.
“They were made to look like little houses, so they would blend in with residential neighborhoods and communities,” says Amanda DeCort, executive director of the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture. “And they wanted to have a consistent corporate image, so they were painted all the same way. They immediately became recognizable all along the highways.”
For motorists making their way down the Mother Road, a gas stop in Tulsa meant heading through downtown.
“The first alignment of Route 66, around 1926, went through downtown Tulsa, and at that time it was still very residential,” DeCort says. “Then in the ’30s, the route moved to 11th Street.”
That’s why one of Tulsa’s most well-known filling stations, the Vickery Phillips 66 Station at East Sixth Street and South Elgin Avenue — was once part of Route 66. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
And more Phillips gas stations have received similar treatment. Several of the buildings had fallen into deep disrepair until discovered by local entrepreneurs. None were simple projects; many had to be gutted and intensively
But the owners of a hair salon, a residential pottery studio and a nostalgic coffee shop are keeping the gas stations alive in the Tulsa zeitgeist.
“While many of these gas stations are now being used for other things, it’s still a really authentic part of Tulsa’s history, and our history of oil and gas,” DeCort says. “They have authenticity, which is what Route 66 travelers today are looking for.”
Thanks to a recent revival of historic buildings in areas such as the Brady Arts, Blue Dome, Kendall Whittier and Pearl districts, Tulsa’s future continues to build on the past.
“This is a great reminder of keeping our historical buildings and using them for other things,” DeCort says. “Small buildings are small business-builders. A lot of great things happened inside of little old buildings.”
Katharine Victoria’s Hair Boutique
1802 S. Cincinnati Ave.
In the early 1970s, local entrepreneur Ron King purchased a lot next door to his primary business, Central Graphics, to alleviate parking issues. It contained a former Phillips gas station in disrepair — until a local hairstylist brought it back to life about 14 years ago when she leased it from King.
She has since moved on, but now another stylist, Katie Wallace, leases the space for herself and fellow stylist Lauren Lipscomb.
“For whatever reason, hairstylists love that building,” King says. “I’ve been approached by about half a dozen.”
Wallace and Lipscomb say that reason is simple: The cottage provides a unique, relaxing experience for the customer.
“It’s great because it’s not a huge, bustling salon,” Wallace says. “We can give the customer a really customized experience and they can even relax with a glass of wine.”
The stylists love the Maple Ridge neighborhood with foot traffic from plenty of walkers or runners — many of whom stop by to talk about the building. And the two women often host open house evenings with wine and cheese.
Wallace says she renovated the salon to give it a more modern feel with updated paint and neutral colors, and her husband, an architect, helped put in a new ceiling, new heat and air and other amenities.
“We really had fun jazzing it up,” she says.
King says he remembers the gas station from when he was growing up in Tulsa.
“The corner is really unique because (the building) sits at an angle,” he says. “Back in the early ’60s when I was in high school, I would drive by, and I still remember seeing the service man sitting out on his stool. When it closed around 1962, I never thought I would own it in the foreseeable future.”
But thanks to a wise business decision, the station is gaining a whole new clientele in the historic Tulsa neighborhood.
“It’s a quaint corner and it really captures the imagination of people,” King says. “People are really interested, especially in that neighborhood, in preserving buildings. And Katie is a great person, so I’m really happy for her success there.”
A potter’s station in Kendall Whittier
2224 E. Admiral Blvd.
Tina Hayner was on the lookout for a new pottery studio 14 years ago, but she didn’t dream she’d soon be living in a former Phillips gas station. Her circa-1929 home/studio was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
“I was approached by a local entrepreneur who owned properties on Admiral Boulevard, and so I walked through it and immediately saw the potential to live and work in it,” says Hayner, who studied fine arts and engineering in college.
“Did I ever think I’d be here 14 years later? No,” she says with a laugh.
But she knew she was up for a renovation challenge because the building was so unique and perfectly suited for working and living in the area.
After she purchased the building, she gutted and renovated the 400-square-foot cottage area, which is her personal residence. And she transformed the garage area, which has another 450 square feet, into her pottery studio.
The renovations were hefty and took months. She had to update the heat and air and electrical wiring and even had to put in a new electrical pole. She added a beadboard ceiling in her living area and updated the entire plumbing system, creating a bathroom where there used to be two separate entrances — one for white people and one for black people.
“There was a time I was driving my truck into the garage and sleeping on an air mattress in the back,” she says. “But with my background and history in architecture, it was a good challenge for me.”
Visitors often stop by to look at the place they once knew.
“An older couple came here and told me they were married in this place — I guess, after it had been a gas station, it was an office for a justice of the peace,” Hayner says. “I also meet a lot of people who grew up in this neighborhood, and now it’s really coming back. I can open my garage door (in the studio), and it’s a walk-in business for my pottery.”
Hayner’s studio hosts the Shade Tree music series as part of Kendall Whittier After 5, a new event on the second Thursday of each month.
2446 E. 11th St.
Local physician Dr. Morad El-Raheb has been a part of the Hillcrest Medical Center area for years, and he has a slight fixation on double espresso, according to his wife, Annie.
“He drinks them all day long,” she says.
So in 2012, when they realized another of the neighborhood staples, George Tune’s Auto Service, was for sale after nearly 50 years in business, they saw an opportunity to create a coffee shop in the heart of Route 66.
“We knew it would be a challenge, but we wanted to keep the building going, and we really needed a coffee shop in this area,” Annie El-Raheb says. “We took it to the bare bones, but we worked within the building’s original footprint.”
Annie says keeping the 1928 building’s classic cottage as the entrance and restroom area was a must. And Dr. El-Raheb, who also is a woodworker and owns Tulsa Wood Arts next door, used his skills to restore the original door (after scraping off dozens of layers of paint). He also created the wood tables and cabinets for the store.
They transformed the garage area into a modern coffee shop but kept the past alive with décor, such as reclaimed glass, concrete floors and an art deco color scheme.
“We found four original tool boxes here and had them restored,” Annie says. “We loved reusing things for the project.”
While the native New Yorker never dreamed her family would be in the coffee business in Tulsa, the 1,790-square-foot building is the perfect fit for the neighborhood and for her family.
“We have always been those people who love to see historic buildings given new life,” Annie says. “We think these places are treasures.”