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Local Studebaker history brought to light

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  • Local Studebaker history brought to light

    In '1994 I took on the task of generating a newsletter for our local, fledgling chapter - the San Joaquin Valley Chapter of SDC. Wanting to provide something more than the minutes of monthly meetings as well as a few classified ads (which were mostly mine anyway!), I decided to look into local Studebaker history. The city of Visalia declared itself to be in 1852 - the same date as the recognized inception of Studebaker in South Bend. Early attempts at a local newspaper finally produced a publication that still cranks out daily papers to this day - the Visalia Times-Delta. This paper published its centennial edition on June 25th of 1959. In the automotive section of that edition, there was an ad from Switzer and Jordan Studebaker that bore this footnote: Studebaker - the ONE product name advertised in the Times-Delta for 100 years.
    I'm guessing that with the '59 Larks selling so well, no one would've wanted to predict that Visalia would only feature a Stude dealer for 6 more years (and they carried Mercedes-Benz too).

    Anyway, way back in the 90s, I spent too many hours at the local library - trying to assemble a history of Studebaker dealers thru that hundred years that the Times-Delta mentioned. I confess I wasn't THAT interested in horse-drawn era Studes, but if I did find such, it was certainly worth noting. But gasoline-powered vehicles (or electric) were my true focus. And while I'd only scratched the surface of a hundred years of newspaper archives, it did seem elusive to find out who sold Studes here prior to 1916 and where they operated from/at. 1971 & 1918, I knew about. But again - after that thru 1937 - I had no idea. From 1937 until 1965 - I knew that bit of dealer history fairly well. Those were the years that Walter Switzer and Grover Jordan operated Switzer and Jordan Studebaker from 601 Main St.

    But now the gaps that were blank are filled with dealer names and locations. Locations that were a bit of a surprise, no less. It seems that the local Studebaker purveyor at the turn of the 20th century were the Coats Bros. operation known as The Visalia Machine Shops and Garage. The 1933 paper clipping tells that this company had been the first official Studebaker outlet in Visalia - dating back to the early 1890s! And tho not precise, it says that this garage was located almost exactly where the last Stude dealership was in 1965. THAT was news to me!
    Another thing I learned was that the building where I had arranged our 1995 Xmas dinner was actually BUILT to be a Studebaker dealership in the summer of 1916. Heh - that building still stands and so many times I drove by it and wondered what sorta business it might have house BEFORE Studebaker set up shop. And now I learn that it was contracted by one Homer Patterson - a Stude dealer out of Fresno. The Aug. 3rd, 1916 paper clipping tells of how the handsome brickwork and vast plate glass windows will face both streets (Center and Locust) that the shop sits against.
    Studebaker business was booming here, and within three years, this new building was relegated to a service shop alone - the sales department moving to a new stretch of main st that was developed about 1919 or so. What's curious (and yet to be totally figured out) is why a clipping from 1933 welcomes the Studebaker dealer BACK to Main St. - just one door up from where the final dealership was in 1965. That was also news to me. With this bit of "condensation" of time-span, I may have to go back to the library and find out just when they jumped from 605 Main to 601. I happen to have old photos that show them AT 601 in 1939, with a Nash dealer at 605.

    After comparing and sharing notes with this fella yesterday, I drove over to 601/605 again and went inside. Many of the features from these shop's automobile days are still visible. For the last decade or so, they've housed antique malls. The bare red brick walls and the open arching roof structure lend an enhancing aire to the sales of bygone era stuffs.
    No deceptive flags to prove I'm patriotic - no biblical BS to impress - just ME and Studebakers - as it should be.

  • #2
    Here in Portland, Oregon the sign for the original Studebaker Wagon dealership is still visible on the old brick building on Morrison Street. It dates back to the 1870s I think. Near the top of the 4 story building in large block letters it clearly says "Studebaker Wagons". I recently saw a framed advertisement for wagons and buggies at the Forestry Museum dating to about that time. Your story here has inspired me to do some additional research.
    Ed Sallia
    Dundee, OR

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