Let’s Gas Up at the Gas-a-Teria!

 

Gilmore Gas-a-Teria at night 1948

In 1948, the first self-serve gas station was opened in the United States. The station was in Los Angeles, the car capital of the country, on Beverly Boulevard just past Fairfax Avenue and was operated by Gilmore Oil. Gilmore Oil was a large, local oil and gas company well known in southern California. Gilmore called these self-service stations “Gas-a-Teria’s”. The Gas-a-Teria was a massive station for the time featuring eight islands with three pumps per island. The self-serve gas saved the customer five cents per gallon and the attendants at the station were young women.

Gas-a-Teria Attendants

The area bounded by Fairfax, Beverly, and 3rd Street where the Gas-a-Teria was located, was prime real estate. The Gilmore family had owned the land for decades operating it as a dairy farm. In the early 1900s, Arthur Gilmore was drilling a water well when he struck oil Beverly Hillbillies style and he turned the dairy farm into an oil production field. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t too surprising that he struck oil as his property was located only a mile or so north of the La Brea Tar Pits.

When Arthur died in 1918, his son E.B. Gilmore took over the business. E.B. expanded the company into the gas station business building it up to a network of 3,500 stations mostly on the west coast. E.B. was also a born promoter – the company motto was “Roar with Gilmore” and the company logo was a Lion. He sponsored aviator Roscoe Turner and several race drivers including Indy 500 winners Kelly Petillo and Wilbur Shaw.

In the early 1930s, Gilmore began developing this portion of their property and it eventually featured a baseball field (Gilmore Field – home of the Pacific Coast League Hollywood Stars), a football stadium (Gilmore Stadium,) a drive-in theater (Gilmore Drive-In), a large Farmers Market open every day of the year, and the Pan-Pacific Auditorium with its distinctive architecture. The ballpark, football stadium, and drive-in were razed in the 1950s to make way for CBS Television City.

From lower to upper photo – Gilmore Stadium, Gilmore Field & Pan-Pacific Auditorium with Gilmore Drive-In to the right of Gilmore Field

Getting back to the self-serve gas idea, it took quite a while for the idea to catch on. At the time of the Gas-a-Teria, gasoline stations competed on the basis of quality – high-quality gasoline and full service with attendants, usually dressed in a clean, white uniform, who would wash the windows and check the engine oil level and tire air pressure in addition to pumping the gas. In my neck of the woods (Sacramento), the first self-serve gas station was opened in the mid to late 1960s along Fair Oaks Boulevard. My dad started gassing up there after they opened and when I got my license, I also got gas there circa 1970.

The attraction of the self-serve gas was the same as at the Gas-a-Teria – the customer saved money by pumping his own. The way it worked is the customer would buy tokens from the attendant who sat in a small kiosk with the tokens being required to operate the pumps. A funny thing, their gas price wasn’t that much different from the Gas-a-Teria in ’48 (the photos show it was 21 cents at the time) and the Sacramento self-serve which was 27 or 29 cents as I (fuzzily) recall. Later, I worked pumping gas at a Standard station for about a year around 1974 by which time three of the stations 12 pumps were self-serve and the other nine still full-serve. I think that was pretty standard in the mid-1970s.

Gradually over the years, the percentage of self serve pumps at gas stations across the country increased from a quarter to a half and so forth but it took quite some time – 15 years or more – before almost all the pumps were self serve. There are, however, still two states – Oregon and New Jersey – which ban self-service gasoline. If you’re interested, here’s a brief article on the history of self-serve gas.

I was trying to think of a song, any song, about gas stations but the only tune I can think of along those lines is “Too Much Monkey Business” by Chuck Berry.

I should note that I originally posted a bit about the Gilmore Gas-a-Teria several weeks ago at Things I Learned Today group. I decided to expand it a bit and post it here in the Member Posts. These sorts of subjects get posted at Things I Learned Today group regularly so, if you don’t belong, you might consider joining it.

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  1. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    What a respite to read. Very interesting. Thanks. 

    • #1
  2. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    What a respite to read. Very interesting. Thanks.

    Thanks Jules. Yeah, I can only take so much race-rioting and coronavirus lockdown stuff too.

    • #2
  3. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    I did not know that.  Thanks. 

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Great post, tigerlily. Good local history, too; Los Angeles used to be full of mid-sized patches of open ground like this site. Gradually, after the war, even the less desirable pieces of land became valuable. (A number of movie studios’ “Western” lots met this fate.) Richfield, Gilmore, Signal–all west coast regional brands of gasoline that are gone today (although Arco is a descendant of Richfield)

    I got my drivers’ license in early 1974, just after the first oil price/supply shock, and on the east coast self-service was still new. 

    • #5
  6. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Great post, tigerlily. Good local history, too; Los Angeles used to be full of mid-sized patches of open ground like this site. Gradually, after the war, even the less desirable pieces of land became valuable. (A number of movie studios’ “Western” lots met this fate.) Richfield, Gilmore, Signal–all west coast regional brands of gasoline that are gone today (although Arco is a descendant of Richfield)

    I got my drivers’ license in early 1974, just after the first oil price/supply shock, and on the east coast self-service was still new.

    Thanks Gary.

    • #6
  7. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    I did not know that self-service gasoline stations predated the 1973 oil embargo and resulting gasoline shortage (and accompanying rapid rise in gasoline prices).

    I do not remember my parents dispensing their own gasoline before I started to drive in 1972 (in Orange County, California).

    I do remember dispensing my own gasoline when I got my first car in 1974 (post oil crisis). Not only for the cost savings, but also because the gasoline filler tube was positioned on the car so that if you weren’t careful, the gasoline would spill onto the side of the car. I knew how to keep that spillage from happening, but most full service attendants didn’t, and it annoyed me to have them spill gasoline on the side of my car. 

    I attended law school in Oregon 1978-81, and was frustrated that I was not permitted to pump my own gas. A state legislator insisted while I was there that customers should not be permitted to pump their own gas because the customers would spill the gas and during the winter the spilled gas would freeze on the pavement, creating a safety hazard. Gasoline has a ridiculously low freezing point. It’s not going to freeze on the ground in an Oregon winter. His premise was nuts. 

    • #7
  8. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Wow, I never knew about this! Self-serve gas wasn’t a thing where I lived until I was an adult (and no, any Smarty-Pants who thinks of it, I was not an adult in 1948, nor was I even born yet!).  I resisted it for as long as I could, but then came the black day when suddenly there was no choice. No man in a little bow tie and cap appeared to fill my car no matter how long I sat there. I finally realized I had to get out of the car and *gasp* pump gas! From a gas pump! Like a MAN! And my hands smelled like gasoline!  I was very not happy, I can tell you.  I feel that the world has gone downhill ever since.

    • #8
  9. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    The gasoline station in that top photo is one enormous station for the time. Even into the 1970s I recall it being rare for a station to have more than a couple of islands, each having 2 – 4 pumps. 

    • #9
  10. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Wow, I never knew about this! Self-serve gas wasn’t a thing where I lived until I was an adult (and no, any Smarty-Pants who thinks of it, I was not an adult in 1948, nor was I even born yet!). I resisted it for as long as I could, but then came the black day when suddenly there was no choice. No man in a little bow tie and cap appeared to fill my car no matter how long I sat there. I finally realized I had to get out of the car and *gasp* pump gas! From a gas pump! Like a MAN! And my hands smelled like gasoline! I was very not happy, I can tell you. I feel that the world has gone downhill ever since.

    The best thing about living in New Jersey was self-serve gas. When I moved to PA I found a full serve station. I think insurance and payroll got the better of that station, so I’m slumming it again. 

    • #10
  11. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    I also recall in the 1970s gas stations being the primary combatants in big fights with the then-new MasterCard and VISA credit card networks over whether the gas stations could charge more for gasoline purchased with a credit card than they charged for cash purchases. ARCO (at the time recently renamed from the Atlantic Richfield Company) was a major participant in that fight.  

    • #11
  12. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Wow, I never knew about this! Self-serve gas wasn’t a thing where I lived until I was an adult (and no, any Smarty-Pants who thinks of it, I was not an adult in 1948, nor was I even born yet!). I resisted it for as long as I could, but then came the black day when suddenly there was no choice. No man in a little bow tie and cap appeared to fill my car no matter how long I sat there. I finally realized I had to get out of the car and *gasp* pump gas! From a gas pump! Like a MAN! And my hands smelled like gasoline! I was very not happy, I can tell you. I feel that the world has gone downhill ever since.

    Hey RA. Here’s a photo from the Gilmore Gas-a-Teria in ’48 and I’m pretty sure the woman in the photo is pumping gas into her car for the first time.

    • #12
  13. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    tigerlily (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Wow, I never knew about this! Self-serve gas wasn’t a thing where I lived until I was an adult (and no, any Smarty-Pants who thinks of it, I was not an adult in 1948, nor was I even born yet!). I resisted it for as long as I could, but then came the black day when suddenly there was no choice. No man in a little bow tie and cap appeared to fill my car no matter how long I sat there. I finally realized I had to get out of the car and *gasp* pump gas! From a gas pump! Like a MAN! And my hands smelled like gasoline! I was very not happy, I can tell you. I feel that the world has gone downhill ever since.

    Hey RA. Here’s a photo from the Gilmore Gas-a-Teria in ’48 and I’m pretty sure the woman in the photo is pumping gas into her car for the first time.

    ….pumping gas for the very first time

    Isn’t that a Madonna song?

    • #13
  14. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    I did not know that self-service gasoline stations predated the 1973 oil embargo and resulting gasoline shortage (and accompanying rapid rise in gasoline prices).

    I do not remember my parents dispensing their own gasoline before I started to drive in 1972 (in Orange County, California).

    I do remember dispensing my own gasoline when I got my first car in 1974 (post oil crisis). Not only for the cost savings, but also because the gasoline filler tube was positioned on the car so that if you weren’t careful, the gasoline would spill onto the side of the car. I knew how to keep that spillage from happening, but most full service attendants didn’t, and it annoyed me to have them spill gasoline on the side of my car.

    I attended law school in Oregon 1978-81, and was frustrated that I was not permitted to pump my own gas. A state legislator insisted while I was there that customers should not be permitted to pump their own gas because the customers would spill the gas and during the winter the spilled gas would freeze on the pavement, creating a safety hazard. Gasoline has a ridiculously low freezing point. It’s not going to freeze on the ground in an Oregon winter. His premise was nuts.

    Regarding Oregon – I’ve always wondered why they still don’t allow self serve gas – or at least they still didn’t the last time I drove through the state 6 or 7 years ago. You mention that the basis for the law as it was originally passed was safety. However, you’d think that in the ensuing years when it’s clear that self serve gas is safe, the law would acknowledge that fact and change accordingly. I think the continued ban nowadays probably has more to do with trying to “protect jobs” than safety. It’s still a stupid law though.

    • #14
  15. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    I never worked pumping gas but my best friend did during high school. He made .65 cents hour in the early sixties.

    • #15
  16. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    I never worked pumping gas but my best friend did during high school. He made .65 cents hour in the early sixties.

    So he was basically getting about 2-1/2 gallons of gas per hour.

    • #16
  17. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Wow, I never knew about this! Self-serve gas wasn’t a thing where I lived until I was an adult (and no, any Smarty-Pants who thinks of it, I was not an adult in 1948, nor was I even born yet!). I resisted it for as long as I could, but then came the black day when suddenly there was no choice. No man in a little bow tie and cap appeared to fill my car no matter how long I sat there. I finally realized I had to get out of the car and *gasp* pump gas! From a gas pump! Like a MAN! And my hands smelled like gasoline! I was very not happy, I can tell you. I feel that the world has gone downhill ever since.

    One of the big early laughs in Back to The Future after Marty goes back to 1955 is when he sees an army of gas station attendants run out to service a vehicle at the gas pump.

    • #17
  18. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Wow, I never knew about this! Self-serve gas wasn’t a thing where I lived until I was an adult (and no, any Smarty-Pants who thinks of it, I was not an adult in 1948, nor was I even born yet!). I resisted it for as long as I could, but then came the black day when suddenly there was no choice. No man in a little bow tie and cap appeared to fill my car no matter how long I sat there. I finally realized I had to get out of the car and *gasp* pump gas! From a gas pump! Like a MAN! And my hands smelled like gasoline! I was very not happy, I can tell you. I feel that the world has gone downhill ever since.

    One of the big early laughs in Back to The Future after Marty goes back to 1955 is when he sees an army of gas station attendants run out to service a vehicle at the gas pump.

    It was great! They checked your oil and cleaned your windshield too.

    • #18
  19. Dotorimuk Coolidge
    Dotorimuk
    @Dotorimuk

    Great piece. Loved every word, and picture!

    • #19
  20. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Dotorimuk (View Comment):

    Great piece. Loved every word, and picture!

    Thanks Dotorimuk!

    • #20
  21. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    I went to college in RI and used an ATM in 1974. I think that RI was an early adopter of it.

    • #21
  22. Jon1979 Lincoln
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    The ’73 OPEC oil embargo and the near doubling of gas prices was the big spark to self-serve, because it caused convenience stores like 7-11 to put in gas pumps for the first time.  Prior to that, people rarely got gas at non-branded service stations — you might not be buying at a station directly owned by the big majors, but the place you were buying it from was primarily in the business of selling gas and (usually) servicing vehicles, where anything else they peddled that was non-automotive was just an add-on, like a soda vending machine.

    Nowadays, it’s rare you find even a branded fuel location that doesn’t come attached to some type of c-store, and you have the mega c-stores like Buc’ees in Texas, where their Interstate 35 location between Austin and San Antonio is for cars and pickups only, and features a mere 120 fuel pumps. Even Gilmore Oil would be impressed by that number:

    • #22
  23. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    The ’73 OPEC oil embargo and the near doubling of gas prices was the big spark to self-serve, because it caused convenience stores like 7-11 to put in gas pumps for the first time. Prior to that, people rarely got gas at non-branded service stations — you might not be buying at a station directly owned by the big majors, but the place you were buying it from was primarily in the business of selling gas and (usually) servicing vehicle, where anything else they peddled that was non-automotive was just an add-on, like a soda vending machine.

    Nowadays, it’s rare you find even a branded fuel location that doesn’t come attached to some type of c-store, and you have the mega c-stores like Buc’ees in Texas, where the store between Austin and San Antonio is for cars and pickups only, and features a mere 120 fuel pumps. Even Gilmore Oil would be impressed by that number:

    Good golly – that station is massive.

    • #23
  24. Jon1979 Lincoln
    Jon1979
    @Jon1979

    tigerlily (View Comment):

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    The ’73 OPEC oil embargo and the near doubling of gas prices was the big spark to self-serve, because it caused convenience stores like 7-11 to put in gas pumps for the first time. Prior to that, people rarely got gas at non-branded service stations — you might not be buying at a station directly owned by the big majors, but the place you were buying it from was primarily in the business of selling gas and (usually) servicing vehicle, where anything else they peddled that was non-automotive was just an add-on, like a soda vending machine.

    Nowadays, it’s rare you find even a branded fuel location that doesn’t come attached to some type of c-store, and you have the mega c-stores like Buc’ees in Texas, where the store between Austin and San Antonio is for cars and pickups only, and features a mere 120 fuel pumps. Even Gilmore Oil would be impressed by that number:

    Good golly – that station is massive.

    Buc’ees has some normal-sized c-stores in southeast Texas. But their big interstate ones are truly massive, where aside from the short wait for a pump, the main draw is the perpetual restroom cleaning by the store staff (with the other things like the gift shops, the deli and the bakery being just add-ons to the two main features — it’s sort of taken the original interstate concept of Stuckey’s or Nickerson Farms and put it on steroids).

    • #24
  25. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    My first gasoline purchase was at a full service Amoco station in Arlington Heights, IL. Full service and it cost $.32 a gallon. The year was 1972.

    Fast forward. My lovely bride picks me up at work. The gas gauge in our car is on empty because the PX gas station is self service and she has no idea how to pump gas. A lesson follows. PX self service $.67 per gallon. The year was 1979.

    Gas prices from long long ago, I even amaze myself. This stands in stark contrast with, twice in the last month, arriving at work with my lunch left on the kitchen counter.

    • #25
  26. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Here, let me spoil that for you, so when you have to recant you’ll know what to say.

    The Gas-A-Teria was but one element in the ruinous plot by the oil and automotive industry to destroy public transportation and depopulate the  cities by permitting people to live where they wanted, regardless of the cost to society. Once neighborhoods were destroyed, public transportation was defunded to keep the poor in place while the segregated communities enjoyed racially homogenous  prosperity at the expense of others.

    While it may seem “enlightened” to allow women to work in these Gas-A-Terias, they were no doubt subject to constant harassment and paid a fraction of the mechanics in the service bays, and studies show that constant exposure to leaded fuel fumes had long-term health consequences.

    Once the gas stations closed, they left behind massive tanks underground, many of which leaked hazardous chemicals into the ground, an environmental injustice that has still not be fully addressed. In short, what you see as an interesting historical example is actually proof of continuing economic, racial, and sexual violence, the effects of which are still with us. Please do not circulate these images again without a content warning and a full explanation for your readers of the consequences these images produced. Do better. 

    • #26
  27. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Here, let me spoil that for you, so when you have to recant you’ll know what to say.

    The Gas-A-Teria was but one element in the ruinous plot by the oil and automotive industry to destroy public transportation and depopulate the cities by permitting people to live where they wanted, regardless of the cost to society. Once neighborhoods were destroyed, public transportation was defunded to keep the poor in place while the segregated communities enjoyed racially homogenous prosperity at the expense of others.

    While it may seem “enlightened” to allow women to work in these Gas-A-Terias, they were no doubt subject to constant harassment and paid a fraction of the mechanics in the service bays, and studies show that constant exposure to leaded fuel fumes had long-term health consequences.

    Once the gas stations closed, they left behind massive tanks underground, many of which leaked hazardous chemicals into the ground, an environmental injustice that has still not be fully addressed. In short, what you see as an interesting historical example is actually proof of continuing economic, racial, and sexual violence, the effects of which are still with us. Please do not circulate these images again without a content warning and a full explanation for your readers of the consequences these images produced. Do better.

    James, James, James…

    • #27
  28. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Here, let me spoil that for you, so when you have to recant you’ll know what to say.

    The Gas-A-Teria was but one element in the ruinous plot by the oil and automotive industry to destroy public transportation and depopulate the cities by permitting people to live where they wanted, regardless of the cost to society. Once neighborhoods were destroyed, public transportation was defunded to keep the poor in place while the segregated communities enjoyed racially homogenous prosperity at the expense of others.

    While it may seem “enlightened” to allow women to work in these Gas-A-Terias, they were no doubt subject to constant harassment and paid a fraction of the mechanics in the service bays, and studies show that constant exposure to leaded fuel fumes had long-term health consequences.

    Once the gas stations closed, they left behind massive tanks underground, many of which leaked hazardous chemicals into the ground, an environmental injustice that has still not be fully addressed. In short, what you see as an interesting historical example is actually proof of continuing economic, racial, and sexual violence, the effects of which are still with us. Please do not circulate these images again without a content warning and a full explanation for your readers of the consequences these images produced. Do better.

    You’re supposed to put the gasoline in your car, not drink it, James.

    • #28
  29. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Here, let me spoil that for you, so when you have to recant you’ll know what to say.

    The Gas-A-Teria was but one element in the ruinous plot by the oil and automotive industry to destroy public transportation and depopulate the cities by permitting people to live where they wanted, regardless of the cost to society. Once neighborhoods were destroyed, public transportation was defunded to keep the poor in place while the segregated communities enjoyed racially homogenous prosperity at the expense of others.

    While it may seem “enlightened” to allow women to work in these Gas-A-Terias, they were no doubt subject to constant harassment and paid a fraction of the mechanics in the service bays, and studies show that constant exposure to leaded fuel fumes had long-term health consequences.

    Once the gas stations closed, they left behind massive tanks underground, many of which leaked hazardous chemicals into the ground, an environmental injustice that has still not be fully addressed. In short, what you see as an interesting historical example is actually proof of continuing economic, racial, and sexual violence, the effects of which are still with us. Please do not circulate these images again without a content warning and a full explanation for your readers of the consequences these images produced. Do better.

    Oh LILEKS. 

    Tangent: Are you ok? WTH is going on in Minnesota? 

     

    • #29
  30. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Arahant (View Comment):

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Here, let me spoil that for you, so when you have to recant you’ll know what to say.

    The Gas-A-Teria was but one element in the ruinous plot by the oil and automotive industry to destroy public transportation and depopulate the cities by permitting people to live where they wanted, regardless of the cost to society. Once neighborhoods were destroyed, public transportation was defunded to keep the poor in place while the segregated communities enjoyed racially homogenous prosperity at the expense of others.

    While it may seem “enlightened” to allow women to work in these Gas-A-Terias, they were no doubt subject to constant harassment and paid a fraction of the mechanics in the service bays, and studies show that constant exposure to leaded fuel fumes had long-term health consequences.

    Once the gas stations closed, they left behind massive tanks underground, many of which leaked hazardous chemicals into the ground, an environmental injustice that has still not be fully addressed. In short, what you see as an interesting historical example is actually proof of continuing economic, racial, and sexual violence, the effects of which are still with us. Please do not circulate these images again without a content warning and a full explanation for your readers of the consequences these images produced. Do better.

    You’re supposed to put the gasoline in your car, not drink it, James.

    Could be worse. At least he didn’t use it to make a Molotov Cocktail.

    • #30