06 May 2009

Did Eliot Noyes Design this Mobil Station in Sweden?

An email arrived the other day from a woman in Sweden, with a tale and a question. She and her husband, who are aficionados of modern architecture, bought a building that was about to be torn down, and are dismantling it and moving it to their property, to use as a small guesthouse. She wrote:

... it is an old Mobil station by Eliot Noyes according to books, newspapers & other facts. ... The building was in place in Holm/Sweden in 1959. According to papers/books it was built in the US & shipped to Sweden in a box. (We had at least 4 of these buildings shipped to different locations in Sweden but our building is the last one to stand.) The only problem we can see is this : According to the book about Eliot Noyes he started to work for mobil in 1964. But these stations are made in 1959...

So that was her question. If the buildings (you can see what they looked like shortly after they were built, above, and on this blog post) were shipped to Sweden in 1959 and Noyes started working on the Mobil account in 1964, how could he have designed them? In a subsequent email she told us more:

We have have moved parts of the old building, (construction / teak / glass / details etc.) The community of Halmstad had "doomed" the building and it was going to be torn down but we manage to save it with some help from a local paper. We will rebuild it in our garden... We are living in a house ... built 1954 & the "Eliot Noyes" building/station will be a small guesthouse ... for our friends ... We love the design of the old station. We also managed to save the Canopies designed in 1973 by Eliot Noyes & they will also be placed in front of building.

And she added these details in a subsequent email:

We have blueprints from 1958 from the station area in Holm made by MobilOil (USA). At least 3, (maybe 4 or 5) of these stations had their grand opening in 1959/Sweden. ... According to articles from different papers 1959/1960 they were made in the US & shipped to Sweden in boxes. (We have talked to old staff & children, they also say that they were shipped to Sweden in boxes.)

I of course had no idea if Noyes designed the building but because I happened to be working on the brochure for the New Canaan Historical Society's Modern House Day, I had been in touch via email with Alan Goldberg, who had been Eliot Noyes's partner. I forwarded our Swedish correspondent's email to Alan and told him I was skeptical about the Noyes connection. Here's what Alan said:

You’re correct, our office was not working on the Mobil account when the station was reported to be built. I can say with some certainty (I have a rather extensive file on all the design work for Mobil) that the building was not designed by our firm. However, the circular lighting fixtures in the forecourt were one of the elements (kit of parts if you will) for the “Pegasus Design”. I suspect the lights were added later which is why people may attribute the design to Eliot Noyes & Associates.

So Noyes did not design it, which I'm sure disappointed our Swedish correspondent somewhat, although she said she had received email from people who contended that Breuer designed it, perhaps in conjunction with Gropius. That sounds like wishful thinking to me but you never know. I've asked her to let us know if she learns more. You can see what the building looks like now, before renovation, here on her Flickr page. -- ta

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