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Posted on October 21, 2021 at 9:23 AM by Ken Kocher
In our earlier blog, Fill ‘er Up, we followed the evolution of gasoline sales in Madison from the turn-of-the-20th century to the 1920s. Curbside pumps were certainly an improvement over the early days practice of dipping gas from an open barrel. Nonetheless, gassing-up autos parked at the side of the street could be at best a nuisance and at worst a hazard. The 1920s would change all that with a transition to drive-in stations generally dedicated to a specific oil company.
Madison’s early forays into drive-in station maintained a traditional view of where business should occur – downtown. Corner properties on Main Street drew the most interest due to their dual access and high traffic. Of course, these properties were already built out, so to accommodate pumps and auto lanes, some demolition would need to occur. Madison’s first drive-thru gas station would be on the corner of Main and Washington, the location of the Broughton Building, which was a two-story building. Although later on Americans were willing to sacrifice substantial buildings to the automobile, the owner of this property, who was leasing the property for a gas station, was not willing to entertain complete demolition. The solution? Remove most of the first floor.
The June 29, 1923, issue of the Madisonian reported that W.D. Cavin had secured the contract to tear away the lower floor of the corner store recently vacated by W.E. Shepherd. W.A. Perkins (Ab), who ran a tire and battery business in the adjoining building, was having the work done. The result, which included a ladies’ restroom on the second floor (the plumbing done by Charles Cavin), was “a modern and up to date station in every respect.” He named it Perkins Place and sold “that Good Gulf Gas.” Perkins painted the first floor yellow, and it was referred to in ads and articles as “the Yellow Front” or “the Yellow Corner.” This color choice may seem odd to those of us who remember the primarily orange Gulf Logo, however the 1920s logo, while still orange, was much lighter and would have worked well with a yellow.
Ab and his wife took an apartment over the filling station in January of 1924 putting him “in a position to provide quick, efficient, and continual service.” The station became “one of the most popular resorts in town for the radio fans” when Perkins purchased a $300 radio through an Atlanta concern, supposedly the first to be shipped to that city. It was fully described in the Madisonian, “A loop antenna takes the place of the aerial, and the instrument is a six-tube supper-heterodyne, made by the Radio Corporation of America. It is equipped with a second harmonic and radiola loud speaker. Such distant points as Portland, San Francisco, points in Canada and Cuba, can be heard distinctly.”
Ab Perkins appeared to thrive on the extremely competitive nature of the gasoline business. He placed a newspaper ad in September 1924 to correct the report that he was interested in the Texas Filling Station. “I am running my own business and am not trying to buy any place that will cut competition.” The Madisonian noted, “Ab’s the cat’s derby when it comes to telling the public what’s what and why.” Perkin’s called out the newspaper in 1926 for “giving him a black eye” by incorrectly reporting that no local dealer had met the last cut in gas made by Pan-Am Oil Co. The paper admitted that it had failed by being misinformed by a presumed reliable source.
Pan-American Oil Co. and Perkins Place were again mentioned in the same article six months later when Pan-Am purchased the lease of the building from Ab. Consequently, the this came to be known as the Pan-Am corner in the ensuing years. W. A. Perkins was not out of the gas game though. He had already built a new station at the intersection of Augusta and Athens roads (441 & 278) where he continued to sell Gulf gasoline. Those locating gas stations had already begun to think outside the downtown box.
We’ll continue with the history of the Pan-Am corner in a future blog.
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