The Barnsdall-Rio Grande gas station was born of the sudden tremendous success of its namesake oil company and the influence of the civic leader Pearl Chase. Chase was leading the efforts to rebuild the Santa Barbara area after the 1925 earthquake, and favored Spanish Colonial style architecture.
When the oil company hired the firm Morgan, Walls & Clements to build its flagship gas station near their oil fields on Highway 101, it followed Chase’s example. The building was small but impressive, with white stucco walls, red mission tiles on the roof, a molded border for the upper windows, a domed cupola on top, and blue and white tile around the doors and windows on the first floor.
William Randolph Hearst was known to stop there when traveling between Los Angeles and San Simeon. The gas station survived a Japanese submarine attack on the California coast in 1942, but a few years later Highway 101 was rerouted, isolating the little gas station, and by the early 1950s it had closed. Still abandoned, its future is uncertain. Residents hope the building will be restored to its former beauty and made into a museum.
Know Before You Go
It's east to miss as it sits on a road across from modern condos, keep your eyes peeled as the oil field behind it is long gone.