Starbucks (Gilmore Gas Station) | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Douglas Olson

Starbucks (Gilmore Gas Station)

Built in 1935, the Streamline Moderne former Gilmore Gas Station stands on the corner of Highland and Willoughby in Hollywood.

The Gilmore Oil Company was one of the largest oil producers and retailers in the country. Their “Red Lion” brand gas stations could be found throughout the West. It would later become a subsidiary of Mobil Gas.

A franchise of the Gilmore Oil Company, the Gilmore Gas Station was built on land owned by actor Wallace Beery. In 1956, then under the brand name Texaco, the station changed owners.

Over the years, the gas station served as a backdrop for films, television commercials, and photo shoots, including the 1991 Steve Martin film L.A. Story, and the very first California State Lottery commercial filmed in Los Angeles.

After the demolition of several neighboring historic buildings associated with car culture, the Melrose Neighborhood Association successfully nominated the gas station for Historic-Cultural Monument status. It was designated in 1992.

Yet the building stood vacant, boarded up, and covered in bird droppings for the next twenty years. To make matters worse, in 2009, a truck accident severely damaged the building’s distinctive cantilevered canopies.

In 2013, Starbucks presented a plan to convert the derelict station into a drive-through/walk-up coffee shop. Residents of the neighborhood responded well to the project, which opted for rehabilitation over demolition.

The project officially began in 2015. The team removed incompatible alterations, such as metal roll-up garage doors, and replaced them with contemporary adaptations of historic garage doors.

They turned existing openings under canopies into a walk-up order window and a drive-thru window. They meticulously restored the station’s decorative lighting and replaced neon tube lighting with environmentally friendly LED lighting. The team recreated irreparable historic elements, including the cantilevered canopies.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was the oil contamination from the gas station. A hydraulic lift with an oil pump operated the garage’s lift station, and over the years, oil leaked into the soil. As a result, the site required extensive environmental cleanup.

The building’s landmark status led Starbucks to adapt its signage, using a smaller logo compatible with the building’s design.

This project is a fantastic example of adaptive reuse done right. As a drive-thru, the site remains true to its auto-centric roots. It beautifully yet sensitively reimagined an easily lost building to serve new generations. Through smart corporate investment, this community landmark serves as a "fuel" station, once again. 

This project earned a Conservancy Preservation Award in 2018.

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