Renaissance of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed gas station continuesA famous local landmark is undergoing one more step toward restoring its previous grandeur. The world’s only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed gas station, located at the corner of Cloquet Avenue and Highway 33 in Cloquet, will soon sport the original lantern-like sign and masonry pier that were a feature of the station when it first opened in 1958.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
A famous local landmark is undergoing one more step toward restoring its previous grandeur. The world’s only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed gas station, located at the corner of Cloquet Avenue and Highway 33 in Cloquet, will soon sport the original lantern-like sign and masonry pier that were a feature of the station when it first opened in 1958.
According to station co-owner Mike McKinney, the sign has been in storage at one of their company warehouses for the past 40 years. The McKinney family decided to restore and remount the sign as part of their ongoing commitment to refurbishing the iconic gas station, a process which began in 2008 with the celebration of the station’s landmark anniversary
“Things really got under way with the 50th,” said McKinney. “At that time, we made a list of the things that needed to be done as money became available to do them. When we asked Bob Pond [the architect who apprenticed under Frank Lloyd Wright and supervised the construction of the original station], he urged us, ‘Put that wall back up!’”
McKinney said the wall and the signage it supported once served as a divider between the gas station and an adjoining station and two bars that were located next door. He said after a time the design feature proved to be less than practical and was eventually removed. Today, as the working station continues to attract a steady stream of tourists and fans of Wright’s work, the restoration of the wall and sign should once again add visual interest to the facility.
“It’s an industrial sculpture of sorts,” said McKinney.
The heavy glass sign, supported by a steel frame and bolstered by the masonry wall is classic Frank Lloyd Wright design in every respect. The sign itself echoes a similar, smaller sign mounted on a pedestal on the roof of the station’s visitor’s lounge.
McKinney said the contractors broke ground on the latest project this week and it is expected to take two to three weeks to complete. The total price tag for the project will be some $27,000, with $10,000 of it provided through a Small Cities Development grant.
A number of other upgrades have been completed at the station in recent years, including the painting of the interior of the automotive repair bay and the exterior of the station, roof repair, sheet rocking and lighting repair. The gas pumps have been replaced, the visitors’ lounge bathrooms have been renovated and the ceiling refortified, and the concrete in the parking lot and around the gas pumps was torn up and redone. New 1950s-era garbage cans were installed and the Frank Lloyd Wright font type has been used in new wording in the lounge.
Even the planters, also a traditional Wright touch, have been revived and filled with eye-catching red geraniums.
Still the only Wright building of its kind, the unique nature of the gas station had been downplayed over the past 30 years.
“Forming a committee to plan the [50th anniversary] event was the impetus we needed to rededicate and refocus some of our energy on the station,” McKinney said. “We want to make huge strides … as we can afford, to really bring it back to shape.”
New signage was added last year identifying the station as the world’s only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed gas station, and a billboard along Highway 33 just to the south of the station alerts tourists of how to find it.
McKinney indicated that more upgrades to the station, which remains in active use as home to Terry’s Best Service, are anticipated in the future
“We just have to take a look at what makes the most sense as we go along,” he added.