While doing research for a project on architectural aesthetics, I came across this quotation:
The highest form of popular art is found in the decoration of filling stations […] One tours them as one does the château country of France.
– Bruce Bliven, New Republic, 1927*
That was 90 years ago in Los Angeles, an entire continent away from where I’m sitting right now. And yet a perfect example of the gas station château aesthetic sits alone and almost forgotten, around the corner from my house.
Once upon a time, gas stations were ‘service stations’, thriving centres of community activity – the Starbuck’s of their day – and to pretend that a service station was a mini-château was not too much of a stretch. After all, we were all indentured servants to our cars, and our cars all paid obeisance to the local station.
In Greater Toronto, 16 service stations were built by the Joy Oil Company, in the château style in the 1930s. Only one of them remains, and it is on life support, on the south side of Lakeshore Boulevard West, having been moved from its original location, about a block away in order to facilitate a residential complex that is still unbuilt.
Of the 16 stations built in the Greater Toronto Area, only one station survives today, at Lakeshore Boulevard West and Windermere Avenue built in 1937. In April 2007, the City of Toronto moved part of the statoin from the site to a location across the street at Sir Casimir Gzowski Park. The station was restored and will be repurposed as an eatery and tourist information centre once the current contract with the nearby vendor expires after 2016. **
Well it’s 2017 now. All parts of the little Joy station have been moved, reassembled, and polished up, but it still sits in its chain link cage, forlorn and unappreciated, surrounded by Canada geese and cyclists, waiting for some kind of joy to return.
If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, driving east along Lakeshore, just past Windermere, don’t forget to honk and wave at the Joy station. It’s not the château country of France, but once upon a time, it felt like it was.
*Quoted in ‘Expository Expositions’ by Neil Harris, in Karal Ann Marling’s Designing Disney’s Theme Parks
**from Wikiwand article ‘Joy Gas Stations’ found at www.wikiwand.com/en/Joy_Gas_Stations
See also Perspectives Winter, 2009, p. 30