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November 22, 2005 > Irvington Pioneer Garages and Dealers

Irvington Pioneer Garages and Dealers

The first automobile apparently went through Irvington in 1896, and it was not long before this new marvel changed the town and everyone's way of life.

Joshua Chadbourne opened a garage in Irvington in 1906, the first garage between San Jose and Oakland. One of the first ads read "J. F. Chadbourne, Agent for Rambler Touring Cars and Runabouts, Irvington, Alameda Co., California, Repairing."

Joshua apparently formed a partnership with R.D. Blacow as they advertised as the Irvington Garage in 1907. Later ads show Joshua operating as sole owner. He was an excellent mechanic and conducted a brisk business because the cars frequently had mechanical problems. Joshua had the first auto agency, handling the Rambler, Marathon, Jeffery Mitchell and EMF Studebaker. He jokingly said that EMF stood for "every morning fix'em." The Mitchells were apparently in demand as he ordered three five-passenger cars and one four-passenger car in April 1912. His 1915 ad featured the Dodge as "the final word in motor car construction," but he was still the Jeffery agent. His business was so brisk that he had to build an addition to his garage.

Babb and Costa advertised in 1916 as distributors for the "Chevrolet Four-Ninety, the lowest priced electrically lighted and started automobile in the world." They were agents for Regal cars in 1917.

W. H. Blacow became the agent for the Union Oil Co. for Washington Township in 1912 and visited each town once a week with tanks of gasoline, distillate, kerosene and lubricating oils. His ad read "Look Out for the Red Wagon." Ray Benbow was the wholesale distributor for Rio Grande gasoline in 1947.

O. N. Hirsch was another pioneer Irvington auto dealer. He was reported selling a five-passenger Studebaker and a $3,000 Rambler in 1909. Joshua Chadbourne ordered a six cylinder Mitchell roadster with a wide wheel base for him in 1912. This was apparently a personal car for Hirsch as the local editor commented "Now that Sunday closing has been realized Mr. Hirsch is looking anxiously forward to the arrival of his splendid car."

Hirsch was reported as the owner of a new 1913 Rambler roadster with electric lights and starter. He was handling Marion-Handley roadsters and Lexington sport cars at his Dependable Garage. He erected a new garage by the I.O.O.F. Hall advertised as "the Thorobred" in 1917. The Sanborn map shows a showroom in the front part of his building with a repair center in the rear. The garage was 50 feet by 100 feet and "thoroughly equipped and operated by a very competent mechanic."

Joseph Costa tore down the old "Corner Saloon building and erected a larger two-story building. He established a Chevrolet dealership and showroom in the corner of the building fronting on the main street. Joe died in 1923, and Ed Rose rented the car agency and established a service station.

J. F. Cunha took over the Corner Garage where he was sales representative for the Jupmobile, "The car of the American family," in 1925. In 1927 Cunha was advertising Cunha Bros. Garage. By 1935 it was Joe Corey's Garage, and Joe was the Dodge and Plymouth dealer. Mack's Garage advertised towing and repairs here in the 50s and 60s. The address given varied from Mission Street to Washington Boulevard to Highway 17. This garage was closed in 1979 and demolished in 1980 as part of the Irvington District Redevelopment Project.

John Jorgensen operated a garage in the O.N. Hirsch building for several years. It was taken over by George Scannard of Centerville and was closed in the late 1930s.

Another Irvington auto dealer was E. H. Hirsch. He was agent for the Star, Chandler and Cleveland automobiles in 1925. Sumner Blacow was an agent for the Indian Motorcycle. He operated from the Tierney and Reynolds store in 1913. His 1918 ad read, "Count the Indians on the Road," and offered monthly payments.

The Universal Garage on Washington Boulevard in the Hansen and Leal building is visible in the background of a 1946 photograph of the Apricot Festival Parade. Ads for the garage emphasized repairing and welding. They were overhauling motors for local residents in 1948.

Wes Hammond described Roy Canright's Garade on the San Jose highway in his book, "Remembering My Life in Irvington, California." Roy did all kinds of automobile repairing, but his specialty was building race cars in conjunction with Joseph and George Amaral and Frank Cardoza. They built the body, installed a commercial engine and towed the cars to races as far away as Los Angeles. They hired a driver, Freddie Agabashian, who later gained fame as a racer.

Irvington was described as a budding auto center in 1919, but automobiles brought challenges as well as blessings. Hotels and restaurants had to adapt to cars and drivers. Traffic jams became part of life. The street in front of Maple Hall was "impassable" one evening in 1912 because of the long rows of carriages and autos bringing people to a Thanksgiving dance. Over 1,200 cars were counted at Irvington in one hour in 1928. Accidents became a consuming problem. Several auto-bicycle collisions occurred in Irvington in 1911 and a local boy was killed when a speeding auto crashed into a telephone pole in front of Dr. Grimmer's office.

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