This abandoned temple-like gas station is an architectural oddity in modern Washington and a monument to the optimism of civic planning in the early automobile age. Originally named the Embassy Gulf Service Center, it was built in 1937, a time of growing competition for gas stations, when companies had to find new ways to differentiate themselves.
Some fuel stations added practical features like bathrooms or automobile maintenance services. But this station, built by the Gulf Refining Company, took a different route. It sold itself as a public service for the local community, and the owners saw the station as similar to neighborhood civic institutions like libraries or banks.
The design reinforces this civic connection, with a stately Classical Revival facade made of Alabama Limestone, and Doric supporting columns beneath a pediment timepiece.
Building anything in Washington—even a gas station—can be a highly bureaucratic affair. Since the Embassy Gulf Service Center was next to a Rock Creek Park National Park Service jurisdiction, its design had to be reviewed by none less than the Commission on Fine Arts, the Park Service, and the National Capital Park and Planning Commission. This succession of regulatory boards rank Embassy Gulf among the most artistically scrutinized gas stations in the country.
While the National Park Service eulogizes Embassy Gulf as a symbol of “gas station architecture as community assets worthy of praise and preservation,” the structure is currently in the process of being put back into use as gas station once again, this time branded as a Shell-branded pump.
Know Before You Go
This property just reopened this year after several years of vacancy. I was surprised the new 2021 station did not include any EV charging stations.