Travel between Yakima and Sunnyside, Washington on Interstate 82 and you’ll come upon a turnout for the town of Zillah, home to a 15-foot-tall teapot complete with sheet metal handle and concrete spout.
It’s a classic 1920s bit of roadside architecture that for many years served up gas to motorists and a history lesson to everyone.
The story goes that Jack Ainsworth decided to build the teapot after a night of drinking moonshine and playing cards. Ainsworth and his buddies were appalled over the outcome of President Warren G. Harding’s decision a year earlier to transfer the control of naval oil reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming and Elk Hills, California from the Navy to the Department of the Interior.
It seems that the then Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, had leased those oil fields to two businessmen who had given him what ultimately were deemed to be illegal ‘loans.’
Investigations ensued, fines were paid, folks ended up in jail, and the oil fields reverted to government control in 1927.
Ainsworth built the Teapot Dome Gas Station to poke fun at the whole situation while the trials were underway and, until it ceased commercial operation in the early 1990s, the station was said to be one of the oldest functioning gas stations in the United States.
Even though it was boarded up and forlorn-looking on the edge of town, the teapot had a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
Now it’s going to have a place of honor in Zillah’s tiny downtown.
The city of Zillah raised funds to purchase, re-locate and re-purpose the teapot as an information booth and last week, minus its spout and its shingles, the teapot was packed up and trucked into town.
When it is all put back together, repaired and refurbished, the Teapot Dome Gas Station, along with its old “Gas” sign and its outhouse, will sit next to the Civic Center in Zillah, WA.
Could there be any better excuse for a road trip?