Prosperity.

Shell Oil pioneered the “neighborhood service station” beginning in 1958 when they introduced their ranch style buildings. As part of what we now call the “Mid-Century Modern” era, this design has always reminded me of what I’ve read about the mid 50s and early 60s: it was an era of prosperity and the United States was reaching for the stars. If you were part of a middle-class, white American family with 2.45 children, a house in the suburbs, and a white picket fence around your carefully tended-to lawn, you had it good.

At least this is what I’ve read.

Societal analysis aside, I’ve always loved the architecture from this part of the 20th century. Here’s an original Shell station without 21st century improvements:

Image courtesy of Flickr user Mark Potter and was found via a Google search

Shell stations like this were found all over the place near where I grew up in Upstate New York until Shell Oil left the area in the late 1970s. Many of the buildings still stand (at least the last time I was there), though they’ve been rebranded by another oil company or have been repurposed as something else. The Shell station of this design closest to my grandparents in the city was turned into a Jreck Sub shortly before I started driving in 1984. The chimney on that building remained, usually it’s removed as part of renovations, as seen in the top photo I took today on the corner of California and Fullerton here in Chicago.

While there’s nothing physically “space age” about Shell Oil or these ranch style buildings, I can’t help but think of the aforementioned space age prosperity of the time. Society seemed more hopeful.

Hope is a good thing.

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