Saturday, May 14, 2011

San Francisco Ford Lincoln Closes Its doors

San Francisco Ford Lincoln closed its doors the other day.

The last Ford dealer on Van Ness Avenue’s historic Auto Row closed its doors.


As the last Ford dealer in San Francisco became history, it joined the ranks of the last Chevy dealer, the last Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Cadillac, GMC, Saturn, Lincoln, Mercury, Chrysler Plymouth, Dodge, Jeep, DeSoto, AMC dealers in the history books.

Detroit’s Big Three, GM, Ford, Chrysler, no longer have a dealer in San Francisco selling their vehicles. No pickups, SUV’s, Minivans, Crossovers, luxury cars, hybrids, compacts or subcompacts in San Francisco.

From a post World War II high of nearly 60 dealers, none exist within the City and County of San Francisco. Van Ness Avenue is down to a few imported brands from a high of 20 outlets.

An era, a century closed with San Francisco Ford Lincoln.

Geary Blvd. once had 20 dealerships. Now it has the remaining Toyota dealer in the City. Reynolds Seiler AMC Rambler, like many AMC dealers in the Bay Area during the large 60’s, dueled with a small import line, Toyota. Within three years the owners dropped AMC and rode the fortunes of Toyota. They also opened up a larger Toyota franchise on Van Ness.

Van Ness Ave. was the fabled Auto Row with the dealerships built a century ago looking like palaces. I remember three Chevy and two Ford dealers on Auto Row. The oldest was Hughson Ford. William Hughson received the first Ford franchise and went on to outlive, that is, collect on his life insurance policy. S & C Ford on Market and Van Ness folded three years ago during Detroit’s collapse. I looked at the original Ford Shelby 350 and 500 Mustangs in its showroom. The Van Ness dealers rented searchlights to draw customers when the new models were released.

George Olson was the large Cadillac dealer on Van Ness. I entered college in February 1964 and joined the college newspaper, The Foghorn, as its photographer. My first assignment was to take photos of the Civil Rights picketing of the Cadillac dealer to integrate the auto showrooms. I heard for the first time “We Shall Overcome” that day. The property is now an AMC Cinema.

The Chrysler Plymouth dealer tried a novel idea to sell cars. It fired the salesmen and replaced them with young saleswomen. It attracted traffic into the showroom, but the young men weren’t there to buy cars. Adverse sales threw cold water on that idea.

The fabled Ellis “If you can find it cheaper elsewhere, I will give you 5 pounds of Hills Brothers Coffee” Brooks closed 2 ½ years ago, the last GM dealer in the city.

The building will become a Nissan-Infiniti outlet, at least for now.

Les Vogel Chevrolet advertised “See the USA in a Chevrolet at Mission and Van Ness.” It saw its way down the Peninsula as a Chrysler Plymouth, Jeep and Dodge dealer.

Some of the dealers became pillars of the community. Roger Boas, with a Pontiac dealership on Geary Blvd. near Kaiser Permanente, was Chairman of the Democratic State Party.

Detroit’s franchises spread throughout the neighborhoods. Ben Alexander, an actor who was Jack Webb’s partner on the original Dragnet, had a Ford shop on Mission Street, near Sears (also closed). A VW dealer was on 19th Ave. Fazarkerly Cadillac was in Stonestown across from the Emporium. After going through two successive owners, it became a Petco. The Oldsmobile dealer on Van Ness morphed into a chain bookstore.

The land became too valuable, and profits too small, to justify selling cars. Profits could be made by terminating the high cost, low profits dealerships as the economics of the auto industry changed. A 9.5% sales tax doesn’t help sales in the City. The small buildings, lacking parking, became economically inefficient.

If you want to buy a Made in Detroit vehicle today, you must cross the line into Daly City; i.e. Serramonte, or Colma, where the dealerships are nestled between the cemeteries.

The City & County of San Francisco is down to 5 non-Detroit dealerships.

Silicon Valley beat out Detroit in San Francisco.

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