In the 1920s, fanciful, imaginative, inventive gas stations were built all over the Southland.
They mined every era in history, borrowing minarets from the Middle East, Chinese pagodas and southwestern adobe ranch houses.
But the most memorable and dazzling ones looked forward to the future, sweeping in with illuminated glass signage, polished steel pumps and graphically inventive designs.
Attendants wore clean uniforms, and proudly serviced cars, luring drivers in with not only prices, but entertainment.
One station offered an all female staff, the other clothed their workers in jodphurs.
Comic book characters like Tarzan, dinosaurs from the pre-historic age, and Pegasus from Greek mythology, all gathered to sell gasoline.
One hundred years later we see that the people on the front lines in clean uniforms were the public face of a dirty business, one that has led the planet Earth into endless wars of terrorism, despotism, the melting of the icebergs and the degradation of our oceans, rivers and air. We are still fighting over oil, even as it swallows us up from the pipeline plains of Alberta to the violent sands of Arabia, even as its toxic vapors diminish human, animal and plant life in every corner of the globe. Fracking into rock for oil makes earthquakes in Oklahoma. But its addiction is unending. Everyone wants oil, from the warriors of ISIS to the kid in his 1988 Honda on his way to Valley College.
Our price for a cheap ride to the nail salon ends in the extinction of nature.
But for thirty cents a gallon, a family in Los Angeles once had a joy ride on the smooth road, going from shopping center to beach with the top down. And those days are gone forever.
Photos from the USC Digital Archives.