Teapot Dome Gas Service Station, Zillah Washington

Date added: July 06, 2022 Categories: Washington Roadside Attraction
South elevation, looking north (1985)

The Teapot Dome Service Station is a landmark example of the roadside architectural "follies" built during the expansion of the national highway network in the 1920's and 30's. Constructed in 1922 to resemble a teapot, complete with handle and spout, the gas station is a humorous reminder of the Teapot Dome oil lease scandals that rocked the Harding Administration. Station owner Jack Ainsworth designed and built the structure the year of the scandal; the business was purchased by A.J. Thomas in 1928 and has been operated almost continuously since then by his family.

Fanciful architectural expressions were a colorful feature of highway culture and commerce during the period. Highly visible and usually humorous, these buildings caught the eye of the passing motorist and served as effective advertisements. The Teapot Dome station is a familiar sight to travellers in eastern Washington and ranks among the most notable "follies" in the state. Unlike others, however, the Teapot Dome Station conveys a political joke, selling oil products from a structure that reminds us of the controversy that sent U.S. Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall to prison for transferring government oil reserves to private producers in return for money.

In 1978, the station was moved 1.2 miles west of its original location on State Highway 12 during the construction of Interstate 82. The move was assisted by the State Department of Transportation in an effort to preserve the station. From its new location on old Highway 12, the Teapot Dome continues to pump gas in a setting strongly reminiscent of the original site. At both sites the station was oriented toward the highway not far from the side of the road, surrounded by open farmland and a few scattered farm structures. The building was kept intact during the move in 1978 and retains all the essential historic design features (although it now rests on a new concrete slab). In addition to the station, the original outhouse, sign pole and sign were moved to the new site to preserve the original context.

Building Description

The Teapot Dome Service Station, constructed in 1922, is a circular frame building with conical roof, sheet metal "handle" and concrete "spout," resembling a roadside teapot. Presently located on Old State Highway 12 near Zillah, Washington, the station was moved 1.2 miles west of its original site on the highway in 1978 during the construction of Interstate 82. The new location, which includes the original outhouse as well as station, closely approximates the historic site.

The station, which rests on a new concrete slab, is sided with wood shingles. At its base, the building measures 14 feet in diameter with a 44 foot circumference. The building has an interior ceiling height of ten feet and rises 13 feet on the exterior to the top of the roof. The conical roof is covered with asphalt shingles, has projecting eaves, exposed rafters, and a fascia, and is crowned with a glass globe with flashing light at its apex. The "spout" functions as a stove pipe in cold weather; the "handle" is purely decorative.

The building is lighted by two large fixed multi-paned windows on either side of a single leaf door with a glazed panel of nine panes. A small fixed window with six lights is placed on the side opposite the door. The door and window openings are framed with simple wooden surrounds. The interior of the station is a single, undivided space with plywood walls and floor. The lowered ceiling is made of composition panels. Two florescent lights, spaced four feet apart, hang from the ceiling.

Two rectangular frame buildings are also located on the nominated property. The original outhouse, moved to the new site in 1978, measures four by 11 feet with single leaf doors at both ends. The interior of the building is divided by a center partition. The second ancillary building is the well house/storage facility. It measures five by 11 feet and was constructed after the station was relocated. Other improvements on the property include a cement pump island with two historic pumps (not original to the property), a non-historic light pole, and three non-historic gas pumps. Although the door and front windows of the station were damaged shortly before its relocation, they have been repaired to original condition. The historic "gas" sign and sign pole were moved with the station in 1978 and rest on the rear of the property where they are visible to motorists on Interstate 82.