The historic Ellwood gas station was meant to make a statement. In the late 1920’s the Barnsdall Rio Grande oil company wanted to build a filling station that was second to none. They interviewed many of the most prestigious architectural firms and eventually settled on Morgan, Walls and Clement out of Los Angeles.
When it was completed in 1929, it was a exceptional representation of the Spanish Colonial Revivalism that the Community Arts Association of Santa Barbara was promoting at that time. It won some awards back in the day, and it still turns heads nearly a century later.
One aspect that makes it even more unique is the use of six inch blue and white ceramic tiles. A bold statement, that continues to impress. Down the street a bit, Ellwood school was impressed, their remodel paid tribute to the old filling station by including blue and white tiles in their design. From their website-“The building reflects the history of our area, notably the Barnsdall-Rio Grande Oil Company gas station built in 1929.”
“Ellwood School emulates the historic building, with its white walls and striking blue and white tiles. Ellwood Union School, which is now Ellwood Elementary School, was built in the same year.”
What’s not mentioned is that the school was originally built by the Barnsdall Rio Grande company as administration offices. The original building didn’t have quite the flair of the filling station.
Today they call themselves the Ellwood Eagles, but when I went to Ellwood school in 1968, we were called the Ellwood Drillers, named for the obvious abundance of oil wells. We had a t-shirt with a drawing of an old style hand drill on it, that seemed to imply we would use a drill on the other team or something, so it’s probably a good thing they changed it to the Eagles.
Down in Santa Barbara, the influence of the Ellwood station can be seen at the Santa Barbara zoo. Ed Lenvik was the inspired architect that decided to pay tribute to the design of the station with the main entry at the zoo. Lenvik also did some fine historic architecture when he designed the hotel behind the Sexton House in Goleta.
About the 1992 zoo project, Lenvik says, “When they wanted to improve their entry and provide amenities for the public I gave it a lot of thought and decided that what would be most appropriate was to develop buildings which reflected the unique architectural character of the Santa Barbara area.”
“I settled on the Goleta station as the entry feature at the end of the parking lot – Its tower element would be visible from a distance and the roofed passage way fit as part of what a station would have.”
Lenvik did a beautiful job of recreating the feel of the station. And of course, he remembered the blue and white tiles.
The proud structure that sits quietly at the far end of town has left an impression on countless citizens. It’s image has been painted, drawn, photographed and copied for close to 100 years. Hopefully it will soon be restored to it’s original glory, and preserved to impress future generations.
Now you can have a cool shirt with an original sketch of this building on it, and make a donation to Ellwood School at the same time! CLICK HERE to check it out.
Sources: Ed Lenvik, www.lenvikarchitect.com, Britta Gustafson, John Staneff, Gary B. Coombs, Phyllis J. Olsen, Ellwood School website, Stuart Wilson, Jim Logan