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The story behind the only remaining shell-shaped gas station in Winston-Salem

The structure that started as a clever marketing campaign is still getting attention today.

Yellow shell-shaped building with red door against white fence and pergola.

Quality Oil donated two replica gas pumps that stand out front.

Photo by WStoday

This shell isn’t by the seashore, it’s right here in the Twin City. The unique structure on the corner of East Sprague and Peachtree streets isn’t just a local treasure, it’s the last of its kind. Let’s dig into what makes this relic so spe-shell.

Marketing magic

The building dates back to 1930. Winston-Salem’s Quality Oil Company had recently become the local distributor of gas from the Shell Oil Company. The owners came up with the idea to use the gas station itself as a way to advertise to motorists.

The design for the one-story novelties was patented in November 1930 and the Frank L. Blum Construction Company got to work. Crews built seven clam shells around the city — and one in Kernersville — for $5,000 each.

Black and white photo showing a pergola and shell-shaped gas station.

The pergola to the right of the station was used as a car wash.

Photo via Digital Forsyth

The service station on East Sprague Street served customers until the 1950s. By then, the buildings were proving too small for expanding services, so many of them closed. But in 1972, JD Watson began renting — and later bought — the building on East Sprague Street for his lawn mower repair business, which saved that particular shell. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 1976.

Polishing and preserving

Preservation North Carolina raised $50,000 in the late 1970s to restore the station to its former glory. The city of Winston-Salem designated it as a Local Historic Landmark in May 1994.

The shell served as Preservation NC’s regional office until 2011. It still has a protective covenant on the building, which prohibits it from being demolished or architecturally altered. It also owns a percentage of the property, but Watson is still the primary owner.

Today, the shell is a museum of sorts (a shell-bration, if you will) — black-and-white photos, newspaper clippings, and other relics are inside. You can’t enter the building, but you can stop by for a photo op at 1111 E. Sprague St.