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Cloquet’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed service station represents a milestone in American gas-station design

The station was the only building concept ever constructed from Wright’s utopian vision of a model American community called Broadacre City.

historic photo of has station
Frank Lloyd Wright gas station, Cloquet, c.1963
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

The R.W. Lindholm Service Station in Cloquet was designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Completed in 1958, it is the only building concept ever constructed from Wright’s utopian vision of a model American community called Broadacre City.

Wright is best known as a proponent for organic architecture. This concept found expression in the Prairie School movement, and the Usonian home. He created a design for a Utopian model community he called Broadacre City, which featured Usonian designs. The gas station was a component of this plan. Construction began in April 1958 and the station opened to the public in October of that year.

Wright placed high importance on the automobile. He saw it as a way to escape the crowded city environment. The Broadacre City design was an attempt to encourage decentralization from urban areas. Transportation was essential to providing the freedom American citizens needed, Wright thought, to live a life in his idea of suburbia. And where cars went, gas stations could not have been too far away.

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Ray W. Lindholm was the president of Lindholm Oil, Inc., a distributor of petroleum headquartered in Cloquet. The company owned several gas stations in Minnesota. Wright was first commissioned to design and build the Lindholm residence, called Mantyla, just outside of Cloquet, in 1952. In 1956, Lindholm commissioned Wright again to construct a new service station on the corner of Highway 33 and Cloquet Avenue. Wright refined his Broadacre City service station design and construction of the new building began April 27, 1958. The final cost was $20,000, with some reports stating a higher cost of $75,000.

The building prominently features a cantilevered copper canopy that extends approximately thirty-two feet. It is primarily made of concrete, glass, and steel. Including the thin pylon sign, which once read “Lindholm” in the lower portion, the building rises sixty-two feet high. In the front, the outer cement block walls are stacked, creating a step-effect. Each group of cement blocks is recessed slightly from the ground level upwards. The service station also includes space for community interaction in a glass observation lounge on the second floor. Originally designed to provide an overhead gas supply, traditional gas pumps were used instead to comply with fire codes. Cypress wood, a favorite material of Wright’s, is used throughout the interior.

Wright’s design influenced the development of gas station architecture in the United States. The majority of car service occurred in the rear of the building. This allowed the front to be a space for dramatic design. Influential features include V-shaped cantilevered canopies, service bays surrounding a central office, and large glass windows. These were all mimicked by Phillips Petroleum Company in later service station designs. The Lindholm Service Station’s significance as a Wright structure helped to secure the building a place on the National Register of Historic Places in September in 1985.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.