Monday, July 27, 2009

Odd Fellows Hall, Part 5: Auto Row

Car stories keep popping up in anecdotes people tell about the early days when the Aurora Branch met in the Odd Fellows Hall. And with good reason! That block of South LaSalle Street was “an early automobile commercial center in Aurora” and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

When you take a close look at the buildings that flank the Odd Fellows Hall, you see that they were originally designed as automobile dealerships.
Coats Garage, Odd Fellows Hall, Berthold-Hanson Cadillac Dealership, Theiss’ Central Garage, Finch and McCullouch block (printing and book binding)

Also amazing to note—this block of LaSalle Street, between Benton and Fox, was once on the original Lincoln Highway route through Aurora. No wonder they were selling cars there. This map is from a reprint of A Complete Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway, Fifth Edition, 1924, page 319.

Nowadays car dealerships consist of a showroom, offices, and service garage, surrounded by a massive parking lot with rows and rows of new and used cars. Not so in the early 1900s. Quoting the brochure “Aurora, An Architectural Portrait,” p. 43: “Automobile sales and service buildings developed as a distinctive building type in the early 1900s. They were designed to blend in with other commercial buildings and were generally located on the fringes of the central business districts.”

Immediately north (left) of the Odd Fellows Hall is the Coats Garage. Coats Garage “was the first automobile sales and service building built in the LaSalle Street Auto Row Historic District specifically for this use. Constructed in 1907, it still features the original elevator that transports cars to the second and third floors for storage and servicing. Coat’s line of cars in 1912 [the year the Odd Fellows Hall was built] included Chalmers, E.M.F., Hudson, and Flanders. It was constructed with large “I” beams that span the width of the building, providing a large open space without columns for the display of automobiles. The current owner indicated that 30 modern cars can be stored on each floor.” This is probably the dealership where Fred Schleifer bought his Hudson Terraplane.

On the south side (right) of the Odd Fellows Hall, a Cadillac dealer occupied a one-story building. Recalling her experiences as a child in the early 1940s, my aunt Jane wrote in 1993: “Once in a while Jim and I would go out of the door at the back of the large kitchen and crawl over the metal fire escape and climb onto the roof of the building next to the Odd Fellows Hall. This building had skylight windows where we could look down onto the floor below. It was a Cadillac sales building—beautiful cars to see.” (The skylights are still there.)

Berthold-Hanson Cadillac was an enduring business. Here is their advertisement from the 1964 Aurora City Directory.
Continuing south we come to the Theiss’ Central Garage Building. This off-center photo does not do justice to the pleasing symmetry of the matching, two-story bay windows. Again quoting the architectural tour brochure: “Another automobile sales and service building, the Theiss building was constructed around 1912 in the Commercial Style. It also has the original elevator; however, unlike the Coats Garaged, this building utilized the new technique of fire-proof reinforced concrete slabs for the floors. A 1912 advertisement indicated that the Buick Maxwell, Apperson and Baker Electric cars were sold at the Central Garage.”

Completing the block was the Finch & McCullouch building, erected in 1907. At the time it was one of the most complete printers and binderies in Illinois, and the company remained at that location for more than 70 years. The other side of the block is also interesting for its fine examples of Victorian era commercial buildings. That side of the street was used as the set for the movie, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story. Davis was the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. LaSalle Street was used to represent his hometown in Pennsylvania. (We rented the movie hoping to catch a glimpse of the Odd Fellows Hall, but only the opposite side of the street was shown. All was not lost, however, because it’s a really good movie.)

1 comment:

  1. i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.
    Auto classifieds