Avant’s Cities and Jacksons Conoco Service Stations, El Reno, Oklahoma
Driving along the old alignment of Route 66 in the western Oklahoma town of El Reno, travelers will come to a sharp turn at the corner of Wade and Choctaw where two very distinctive reminders of the service station business along Route 66 remain. At 220 North Choctaw is the old Avant’s Cities Service Station, and immediately to the south, at 121 West Wade, is the Jackson Conoco Service Station. Both businesses began in the 1930s, a favorable time when the paving of Oklahoma Route 66 west of Oklahoma City neared completion.
There seem to be no dramatic stories of cut-throat commercial rivalry between the establishments’ long time managers Tom Avant and Carelton Jackson, even though their two stations were constructed at nearly the same time along the same highway, and within sight of each other. Perhaps this was because as long as the Mother Road reigned supreme, it channeled a constant and growing stream of traffic through small towns such as El Reno, seemingly bringing enough customers for all. Products of their time, the stations represent two contrasting examples of the oil and gas industry’s practice of achieving brand recognition through distinctive service station architecture.
Mr. Avant’s station is an Art Moderne /Art Deco mixed design favored by the Cities Service Oil Company in the 1920s and 1930s. Its overall streamlined and trimmed down look with smooth walls and a flat roof is typical Art Moderne. Art Deco elements include the prominent zigzag parapet and stepped out pilasters. The circular depression beneath the parapet once held the Cities Service logo. A lonely overhead light socket that illuminated the logo still remains. The station’s original color scheme was Cities Service’s trademark white with green trim.
The Jackson Conoco Service Station across the street is a sharp contrast. Unlike the 1930s futuristic approach of Cities Service, but very similar to other competitors such as Phillips 66 and Pure Oil, Conoco Oil opted for the welcoming and domesticated look. The station is styled in the Conoco’s house-with-bays style, resembling a residential home or cottage with a steeply pitched gabled roof, chimney, and decorative corbelling at the eaves under the corners. Distinguishing Conoco’s version of this cottage look is the white glazed brick exterior with red brick trim.
Both stations had a service bay incorporated into their distinctive designs, a sign that these roadside facilities were transitioning toward full service stations. In keeping with its homey motif, the Jackson Conoco’s bay looks like a residential garage with a gabled roof. Both stations added additional service bays and gas pump canopies in the prosperous era after World War II.
Each of the stations replaced earlier casualties of the automobile age. Built in 1933, the Avant Station is on the site of the once flourishing Campbell Hotel, a traditional downtown-lodging establishment that did not appeal to hurried motorists along Route 66. Travelers in automobiles ultimately preferred motor courts and motels at the city’s edge. The venerable hotel was razed to make way for the service station. The early 20th century was a period of increasing competitiveness in America’s oil and gas business, and in 1934, the Jackson Conoco replaced a demolished 1920s state-of-the-art Marland Oil “triangular station” (gas pumps only), after Conoco bought out its parent company.
The stations managed to hold on after the coming of Interstate 40 in the early 1960s, but neither really flourished. The two stations eventually evolved to serve new functions. Today, the Avant’s Service Station is a muffler shop. The Jackson Conoco Service Station serves as a used car dealership. Both stations were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
The Avant’s Cities Service Station is located at 220 N. Choctaw, and the Jackson Conoco Service Station is located at 121 W. Wade in El Reno, OK.