Road Trip: The Barnsdall Rio Grand Service Station

The Station as it stands today
by Michael Satterfield

Sometimes when you are out on a road trip you run across a old building or sign and wonder what it once was. This is what happened on a recent road trip along the California Coast, when I came across and old Spanish style service station outside of Santa Barbara California.

I looked into the station when I got home and it has some interesting history. The Barnsdall Rio Grande service station was built in 1929 and is similar in style to a Richfield station just a few miles from my home just off Route 66, in Rancho Cucamonga. It should be since the same firm designed both. Constructed in the classic Spanish colonial revival style of its time, one design element that sets the station apart is the tall central tower, which was built to hold a 2,000 gallon water storage tank which provided pressurized water to the station. The station was so well designed that it received a beautification award from the Garden Club of Santa Barbara and the Montecito Roadside Committee. 

The road where the station sits is now considered a side road, but back in 1929 it was the main coastal highway, until highway 101 bypassed it completely. The station was built on an oil field owned by Richfield. The oil field is famous itself, the Ellwood oil field was the site of the only attack on the mainland USA during World War II in February of 1942 when a lone Japanese submarine lobbed a shell onto the shores of Ellwood beach, the only attack on American soil during World War II. 

On set of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)
You might also notice that this gas station is the same one from the Jack Nicholson film, The Postman Always Rings Twice. 

A historic shot, the building in the background is the corporate office for the Barnsdall Oil Co.

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