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July 4, 2017 > Haywards Original Auto Row

Haywards Original Auto Row

By John Christian

In 1915 Clarence Manon opened the ÒCity GarageÓ on A Street in downtown Hayward. Manon sold Fords and Buicks to Hayward area residents. This was one of the earliest businesses to sell automobiles in Hayward, but it was only the first of many.

Originally, most showrooms had only a few cars for display. Customers would look over the display models, maybe take a test drive, and then the local Ford or Chevrolet ÒAgentÓ would help customers order their cars directly from the factory. Salesman saw an opportunity to grow sales more quickly by expanding their showrooms and having more vehicles on hand. From the teens into the 1920s, agencies were transformed into full-fledged dealerships. This allowed customers to choose a car onsite and drive it home that day. And drive they did!

In the 1920s, there was flurry of construction that culminated in the so-called ÒHayward Auto-RowÓ along what is today Mission Boulevard, north of A Street (Not to be confused with the later auto row further south on Mission Boulevard, built in the late 1950s-1960s). In 1925 for example, the Hayward Review reported that the construction cost of Walter DanielsÕ new Dodge salesroom was $20,000 (about $275,000 today!). Daniels celebrated the ground breaking, telling the paper, Òyesterday is gone: today is here. LetÕs go!Ó Long forgotten brands like Nash, Studebaker, Kaiser, Hudson, Maxwell, and others were sold in downtown Hayward, if only for a brief time.

Local residents are said to have marveled at the concrete construction of the new buildings north of A Street that were slowly replacing the older wooden buildings around downtown Hayward. That section of Mission Boulevard was also widened at the time and added to the grand appearance of what had been a sleepy, mostly residential block. These new showrooms and dealerships were part of the building taking place in Hayward in the boom years before the Great Depression slowed the economy, but didnÕt stop the sale of cars in the area.

During World War II however, there were no new automobiles to sell. Major auto manufactures halted production of civilian vehicles and focused on building planes, tanks, jeeps and other wartime essentials. With no new cars to sell, many auto dealerships converted their business to fulltime maintenance garages to keep existing cars running. Dohner and Galbraith Ford for example became a repair shop and Shell gas station combination. Don Gilmore Chevrolet advertised heavily, encouraging residents to purchase a used car from his lot and keep it running with a maintenance plan. Judd MotorÕs Dodge, offered maintenance plans for old cars that would allow you to trade it in for a new Dodge, once they began making new cars. Leonard Nunes Oldsmobile even went so far as to offer refurbished engines for 1937-1941 Oldsmobile models. The diversity of services kept HaywardÕs Auto Row humming during the war.

At the same time, auto dealers took out advertisements reminding readers that with the war coming to an end, new cars would be available for the public. Not surprisingly, the first ÒnewÓ cars for sale in Hayward after the war were surplus military Jeeps at Yeager Motors. The dealership made a sales pitch directly to farmers, touting the Jeeps capability on the farm. For a largely agricultural community this must have been especially enticing. During the war, no new tractors or heavy farm equipment were produced either.

In October of 1945, just a few months after the end of the war, the Hayward Review commented on a rare sightÑa new car! ÒThe passersby who stop and gape at 838 A St. do so because the new 1945 FordÑSuper De LuxeÑis on display in Milt DohnerÕs showroomÉJust when they will have sufficient quantity to be sold is also not known. Meanwhile, spectators can dream.Ó

Hayward residents had to dream a little longer, but within a few years auto production was surpassing pre-war levels. The pent-up demand for new cars ensured the prosperity of HaywardÕs Auto Row throughout the post war-era. In the span of only twenty years, Hayward entrepreneurs had constructed ÒAuto RowÓ, weathered the Great Depression, and survived wartime restrictions; finally they were positioned to take advantage of a decade of prosperity.

If you are interested in researching local history please visit the Hayward Area Historical Society at 22380 Foothill Boulevard in downtown Hayward. Visit our website or call (510) 581-0223 for more information.

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