Researching the Roadside: travel & tourism in the Pacific Northwest
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Gas, Food, Lodging
The most important needs of the automobile tourist are gas, food, and lodging. The auto tourist originally had to carry extra gasoline, camp out in farmer's fields along the way and cook their food. The gas station which began as simply as a gas pump in front of a store quickly evolved into a building specifically for the purpose of dispensing gasoline. Because 19th century towns were built to reflect that most people either walked or rode horses, they were compact and vertical. The buildings served several purposes, the stores on the ground level and the services, such as lawyers, doctors, real estate, etc. were upstairs. The gas station building was the beginning of the shift of the structure or our towns from vertical to horizontal. Rather than having all our shopping, services and living spaces compact and vertical for pedestrian use, town form began to shift to sprawling horizontal designs in order to provide space for accommodating automobiles in front of buildings. The gas station began as a tiny building, often set back on a corner so the cars could drive in on one side and out on the other. The early gas stations had small overhanging canopies. Later gas station forms changed as they had to become competitive just like other businesses. Some became "homey" with tudor or cottage designs, some were new!-modern! With streamline modern styling, others went for the exotic or just plain fun designs, such as the Zillah, Washington, Teapot Dome gas station created in response to the Teapot Dome scandal or the Milwaukie, Oregon Bomber gas station which has a decommissioned WWII "Flying Fortress" B12-G bomber above the gas pumps.
While hotels and restaurants, of course, existed before the automobile, they too were affected by automobile tourists. They had to advertise and become more imaginative to lure the traveler from the road. The hotel and restaurant also became part of the horizontal automobile landscape as the motel and fast food restaurant were created specifically to serve the automobile. Because the speed of the automobile is so much faster than by foot or horseback, the entire pace of service had to speed up to accommodate our faster moving lives. Why waste the time driving through a city to a restaurant which will take an hour when you can get a meal in five minutes from the McDonalds along the road? The speed of travel also affected the design of restaurants and motels. As the improved roads and cars allowed for faster speeds, there was no time to read small or complicated signs in order to make a decision where to stop for a meal or lodging. The fast food restaurants began to incorporate their buildings as the sign. Thus today, most people can tell a McDonald's from a Wendy's from a White Castle just by the form of the building itself. Many motel chains have done the same thing with their building styles.