It is, indeed, the largest in the world. It sat on top of an actual Amoco until 1998 when British Petroleum purchased the company. However, there has been a large sign and a gas station on the spot since 1922. This “predates federal highway systems,” according to Joe Sonderman. He is also the author of Route 66 Missouri. Harland Bartholomew, a planner, urged the city in 1921 to buy the strange little triangle of land that was then called the Clayton Cutoff. The city did not make the purchase and Standard Oil was soon able to put up a station. It featured a 65-by 85-foot sign that was attached to concrete piers 8 feet below the ground. It was, along with the Times Square chewing gum sign, one of the three largest signs in America at the time. It cost $50,000, and featured 5,260 bulbs, and flashing advertising slogans in blue, white, or red. It was a clever ruse that worked: It sold more gasoline than any other Standard station in Midwest.
In 1931, it was demolished and replaced by a cream-colored, enamel brick structure with Spanish terracotta tiles. Believe it or not, the sign became more extravagant. It was still double-faced and measured 60 feet tall, 45 feet long, with 5,800 lightbulbs. It had 2,900 feet of neon tubing, 5 miles of wiring, and required an electrical substation. This not only kept it humming, but also powered 2000 floodlights and 20-foot-high light standards. Sonderman states that pilots flying into Lambert Field could use the sign as an approach beacon.
In 1951, LeClare C. Stevenson, also known as Steve, took control of the site and replaced it with the Midcentury station, split-level and stone-faced in 1959. He also replaced the shabby sign with a more modern, space-age, plastic-faced one. It did not read “Amoco” until 1985. It had been a decade and a half since the last time we petitioned BP for it to be removed. This proves that our attachment is more emotional than historical. Or maybe it just feels weird to not have a huge sign there after all these years.
Sandeman states, “It’s so iconic that when KTVI Channel 2 started using a camera looking east from the top of St. Mary’s Hospital’s roof in 2015 sharp-eyed viewers wondered about why the Amoco sign had been obliterated.” “It turned out the state had placed the camera up to monitor the air quality and decided to place an opaque box over it,” Sandeman says. Perhaps because they didn’t want to offend people who succeeded in forcing a multinational petrochemical firm to keep a large, defunct sign at one of their most visible gas stations, the state took the box out.