Sunday, August 25, 2013

More Proof No One Really Knows Everything - and Often - Anything - About the History of Los Angeles UPDATE More Early Pre-1902 Cars Built in LA

William Varner driving a Durocar photo credit Jerry & Barbara Walkers via vintage motoring.blogspot
In a recent post,Kevin Roderick of LA Observed correctly corrects the Wall Street Journal statement that the 1902 Tourister in the "Becoming LA" exhibition at the Natural History Museum was not just the first car ever made in Los Angeles, but that the Tourister was the only car ever manufactured in Los Angeles.

Leaving out LA's history of car manufacturing

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday ran a couple of good Leisure and Arts stories on museum exhibits in Los Angeles. Both are exhibits we've written about and liked: Never Built: Los Angeles at the A+D Museum, and Becoming Los Angeles at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the latter story observes that one of the objects on display, a 1902 Tourister, was the first car produced in Los Angeles. The story says, however, that it's "the only car to be manufactured in Los Angeles."
Oops. That leaves out a lot of cars — thousands. The WPA guide "Los Angeles in the 1930s" noted in 1939 that there were assembly plants here for General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Studebaker and Willys-Overland. 
And the rest of his story is here.

So, as you see, Roderick mentions a few of the many automobile manufacturing plants in LA that were branches of Detroit based companies to prove the WSJ wrong as do and Natural History spokesperson, Kristin Frederick, agrees that the WSJ is in error.

But the minor point everyone ignores is that the first car ever made in Los Angeles was actually manufactured in 1897 on Fifth Street in Downtown Los Angeles by S.D. Sturgis to the design of engineer J. Phillip Erie. And here is a link to a photo of it which seems to dispute the claim that the car never ran again in the other linked to article.

Also ignored is that Los Angeles actually had many locally based auto manufacturing companies and another source describes how by 1907, Los Angeles even had an almost fully locally integrated  headquartered car company (the Durocar, which had a manufacturing plant at 935 S. Los Angeles Street where the Cal Mart Building now stands.) which was started by two people who had worked or sold cars for at a still earlier car manufacturing company based in LA - the Auto Vehicle Manufacturing Company - that manufactured a car called the Tourist.

That car, of course, is probably the Tourister - and is likely the same car as the Tourister in the Natural History Museum.

And those two companies were just the start of locally based LA car manufacturing since by the 1920's, besides factories that later churned out the major Detroit brands, at least 81 different makes of cars had been already been manufactured in Los Angeles, primarily by locally based companies.  

UPDATE - I decided to take a quick spin around the web to see if any other cars might have been built in LA prior to 1902 - and it turns our, there may have been a lot of them - and two of them are at the Petersen Museum.  

First, they have the 1897 electric car built by then 17 year old Earle C. Anthony who was, of course, later one of LA's most famous car dealers.
One of the first cars built in Los Angeles, this spindly vehicle was constructed by 17-year old Earle C. Anthony using lumber, wheelchair gears, bicycle forks and other available components. Though young, Anthony was a competent electrical engineer who also designed and built the 1.5-horsepower electric motor that powered the car. This is believed to be a reconstruction, which was crafted in the early 1920s using the original metal parts attached to a new wooden framework.

Second, there is the 1900 Breer car  also on display at the Petersen.
Our first display as you walk into the museum is the Breer Blacksmith shop and there's Carl Breer in the black at the shop an American working with metal in a Blacksmith shop, reshoe horses and building wagons and things like that, and in the front the display is the Breer steam-powered car from 1900, one of the first cars built in Los Angeles was steam-powered car called the Breer Car. Carl Breer was a blacksmith. No real formal education but very ingenious and have lot of ingenuity and he built this car that runs and drives and what happened with Carl Breer is by 1924 he became the first Chief Engineer of Chrysler Motor Company with no formal education but with the technology and the things in his head and his thought start process, he was able to build this car and then become the chief engineer at Chrysler and that's the story.

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