by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Earle C. Anthony was one of Los Angeles’ best-known automobile dealers as well as owner of the KFI radio station and he had a particular attachment to 22 February, the birthday of the nation’s first president, George Washington. Tonight’s featured object from the museum’s collection is a 32-page publication, penned by Carl Haverlin, a key figure at KFI later an executive with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and drawings by Vernon Grant, who became known for his Snap! Crackle! and Pop! characters for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and many magazine covers, called “Romance of Transportation,” issued by Anthony’s firm for the dedication, on 22 February 1929, of his Packard Building, named, of course, for the make he sold, an up-to-date showroom and office structure at the corner of Hope and Tenth streets.
The item begins with “A Statement” that noted
The firm that is known today as EARLE C. ANTHONY, INC., opened its doors exactly a quarter of a century ago, on Washington’s Birthday, 1904. Exactly nine years later its expansion demanded the larger quarter afforded by the building at Tenth and Hope Streets, dedicated on Washington’s Birthday, 1913. Again Washington’s Birthday marks another milestone in our history, for February 22, 1929 is the date of the dedication to the motoring public of the new $800,000 structure which sixteen years of steady growth has necessitated.
It was added that, in the twenty-five years since Anthony launched his enterprise, “the motor car has grown from fad to fact, from luxury to necessity, from a hit-or-miss carriage to a dependable public servitor.” He modestly wishes to have made some contribution to this phenomenon, while noting that the Packard automobile, “an aristocrat of motordom,” was born in little Warren, Ohio at the end of the 19th century. He concluded that “the roots of its ancestral tree are buried deep in the mold of the ages” and that the sleek modern car of 1929 “would reverence the awkward artisan and the clumsy wheeled slab that thousands of years ago helped to create the patterns of today’s motor cars.
As for the structure, it was observed that architect Bernard R. Maybeck (though the prominent father-and-son team John and Donald Parkinson did the detail work), who designed Anthony’s Los Feliz mansion, employed “lustrous marbles, terrazzo, scaggliola [scagliola, or plaster imitating marble], rich Pecky Cypress, hand-wrought ornamental iron, expanses of shimmering tile, imported stone of luxurious texture, [and] polychrome tints” to “make the Packard Building admirable to those who appreciate the art of the craftsman in a machine-made age.”
The opening of the edifice was the culmination of some two years and $2.5 million of expenditure, including the completion in spring 1927 of a San Francisco structure, followed in fall 1928 by one in Oakland, “in a statewide move to furnish adequate facilities for sales and service to a rapidly increasing Packard public.” While the trio were very different architecturally, they “are subtly related in freedom and beauty” thanks to Maybeck’s creativity, revealed in “such outstanding architectural triumphs” as San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, the Hearst Memorial Gymnasium at the University of California, Berkeley, and work at Hearst Castle.
It was the architect’s “freedom from architectural dogma and conventional design” that allowed him to join Byzantine black marble columns with travertine capitals and corbels” reflective of “several architectural epochs.” Maybeck, moreover, was quoted as saying that “the sleek smooth brilliance of the marble expressed, to me, the mechanical perfection of Packard,” while “plain mural masses were designed as a fitting background for the cars exhibited against them.” The use of “an intricate combination of mellowed colors” on the ceiling of the showroom was meant “to express the luxury and refinement of modern motoring.”
The walls in that space were made of limestone bought in France and from the same quarries as those used for famous chateaus at Chartres and Mont-St.-Michel and “it is interesting to note its micaceous texture which contains millions of tiny fossils,” while the material, being “tawny, [and] foam-like” also “reflects sufficient light to make the illumination” both simple and reducing of shadows.
Also notable was the abundant use of marble created “by an unusual press, invented in Europe three hundred years ago, and today practised by but few in the world.” Among these as Steven Vida, a native of Hungary who migrated to the west coast more than two decades before and worked on the Legion of Honor and Pantages Theatre in San Francisco and the Hellman Bank Building and Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, among others.
The rare work involved using eighteen tons of a super-fine cement as a base and then mixing “certain secret ingredients” to create a semi-liquid. Exteriors of columns were curved and placed on steel and concrete cores and then polished by hand using hones, or tools, made in Scotland and Germany.
The Pecky Cypress from Florida’s Everglades region was used in a laminated ceiling with artist Louis Boggio, who worked on the presidential palace in Cuba, requested to work with it as a Middle Ages painter might have with a castle or cathedral in Spain. He used an effect that made the ceiling seem “as though it had been coated by the dust of many years and the smoke of thousands of torches.” Moreover, “its polychrome tint are warm with the feeling of age and give a tapestried effect” to soften the limestone and marble. The doors were also made of h wood and they featured wrought iron locks and hinges.
Also highlighted was Thomas Nudd’s lighting for the showroom, including what was purportedly the biggest automatic switch board every made, being 46 feet long. With mixes of the three primary colors, it was possible “to duplicate all lighting conditions ranging from the rose dawn through full amber sunlight to purple evening dusk and moonlight.” 773 500-watt globes were in 152 groups and there was a total wattage of 622,000, with enough in the building to light 500 five-room houses.
The ground breaking took place in early October 1927 and included excavating 35,000 cubic feet of earth for the basement and sub-basement. It was asserted that the steel for columns was the largest ever of its kind, while nearly 30 feet between columns was wider than in other buildings of the type “to facilitate the exhibition of cars in the showrooms and their servicing on the upper floors,” with ramps carefully planned for ease of moving vehicles within the structure. In fact, that system was such that driving in second gear from the sub-basement to the roof involving engineering so that “swing, pitch and gradient [have] been calculated” with great precision.
For mechanics, service floors were encased in glass for “every aid to perfect workmanship” and a “Work-Lite” illumination setup eliminated shadows and allowed for night work. Employing a motto of “Anthony Service in Daylight Shops” meant “to safeguard all work” and “to make conditions as ideal as possible for the workmen.” In all, the combination of aesthetic beauty and necessary practicality were said to be full realized in the structure. Beyond the 200,000 square foot within the building, there was 28,000 square feet on the roof for testing so that “every items on the original service order has been completed perfectly.”
It was averred that
this new building is at once home for Packard, an altar to the wheel, and a temple to that vigorous activity which abolishes distance, flattens mountains, links continents, conquers the air, obliterates boundaries, and amalgamates humanity . . . in short: TRANSPORTATION.
Moreover, the publication claimed that “we, who drive automobiles, are actuated by the same impulse to travel; the same spirit of adventure; the same eager quest to see what is back or beyond that lured everyone” from Cabrillo to Cortez and from Fremont to “Louis [sic] and Clark” in “the conquest of the New World and Winning of the West.” These were lofty sentiments about the “magic wand of the genius of travel” that is the car.
The history of transportation included crude Egyptian chariots pulled by camel; the sedan chair and one-wheeled cart (wheelbarrow) of China; and the Roman chariot drawn by from two to four horses when it came to the ancient world. For the New World, there were ox-drawn carts in México by about 1550 and it was pointed out that Spain’s current king, Alphonso XIII, was a Packard owner and, being “the most ardent motorist in Spain,” the monarch was “an apostle of good roads” who felt that, for every day that his subjects acquired an auto, “Spain will reclaim some of its vanished glory.” In just more than two years, however, the king would be deposed!
From wheeled vehicles used in New Mexico’s colonization at the end of the 16th century, the narrative jumped to the overland expedition of Portolá in 1769 traversing most of California, followed by the founding of the chain of 21 missions along the El Camino Real. A second era of transportation in California was the arrival in 1841 of the “Prince of California Pioneers,” John Bidwell (the Bidwell-Bartleson Party,) while, “in the same year . . . [actually a day later, the Workman-Rowland party followed the Santa Fe [Old Spanish] Trail in Southern California.” These were pack-mule travelers, however, but, in 1843, the party led by Joseph R. Walker and Joseph Chiles used “the first American wheels to touch the soil of our State” through wagons.
The account went on that “the first Americans to enter Southern California found, in full flower, a warm, exotic Spanish civilization of such sumptuous magnificence as to merit their caustic disapproval” because huge ranchos were owned by grandees who were served by natives and who “lived like princelings” being “surrounded by colorful retinues and the ritual of hospitality.” There is so much romantic excess in these descriptions, though the hostility of many Americans and Europeans was true enough.
The pre-American period was when “the clumsy two and four wheeled ox-drawn carts were built for transporting produce and supplies,” but no iron was used, not even for nails, so that wheels were made of logs attached to axles in which collars affixed to the bed turned. To keep the axles from generating friction that could lead to fires, liquid soap was applied. The two-wheeled ox-drawn carreta was for the use of passengers and were often decorated for fiestas, though Mariano Vallejo and Pío Pico, it was reported, had the first carriages in California, while Manuel Micheltorena, installed as governor, had the earliest coach imported to the department.
The “rushing river of maddened people” in the Gold Rush meant many conveyances brought overland, though shortly there were coaches, carriages, broughams, surreys and gigs so that “every known type of vehicle was pressed into service,” even if many were abandoned along the oft-torturous routes. It was asserted that “by 1850, the Golden State probably contained more vehicles than any other State in the Union,” though “a weirder collections could not be imagined.”
The stagecoach was also given a detailed examination, as “it aided in the building of the West as greatly as did the Covered Wagon.” The earliest railroad in this region was the Los Angeles and San Pedro, opened in October 1869, just after the finishing of the transcontinental line, followed local Southern Pacific lines and that of the Los Angeles and Independence, whose first president and then treasurer was F.P.F. Temple. The Southern Pacific’s link to the north was finished in September 1876 with trips to the Bay Area taking about a day.
From 1875, it was observed, “Los Angeles has set the pace in transportation styles,” with hansoms, victorias, broughams, streetcars and even the high-wheel bicycle. Even with “today’s splendid Pacific Electric interurban system,” however, “time and distance were dealt a death blow by the automobile.” The first Packard was sold in the Golden State in 1903, the year before Anthony opened his tiny dealership, and “today their descendants, numbered by thousands, are dedicated to the service of youth and age, sport and commerce, and to the maintenance of the genius of Transportation and Travel.”
Notably, the narrative continued, “in 1854, the first appropriation of six thousand dollars was made in Los Angeles which, ever since, has been apostle of good roads and paved highways.” This was a primitive start, but, 75 years later, California was second in the country in numbers of cars and first per capita. It was added that “more than 1,650,000 cars follow ‘Roads to Romance’ over nearly 100,000 miles of paved, surfaced, improved and unimproved highways and roads, probably the greatest highway system in the world.”
With respect to the Angel City and to the Anthony enterprise, it was proclaimed, in quite a concluding mouthful, that
Los Angeles, in the heart of the Orange Empire, railhead for great transcontinental railways, a port to world shipping, a hive of industry, also originates as a complement to its industrial wealth, a treasure house of highways that lead to the beauties nature has so generously lavished upon us.
The Earle C. Anthony, Inc. building, housing the aristocratic Packard, fleet servitor of man, stands then as a temple of travel and a shrine to the vigorous pioneer spirit that underlies the Romance of Transportation in California.
The last several pages include short essays on the Irish “jaunting car,” the Japanese rickshaw, the Austrian Emperors carriage, and the hansom-cab, before a section on the Horseless Carriage era noted that “the early motor car could hardly be told from its horse-drawn cousin” and that some even had whip-sockets in their dashboards. A 1901 Packard Model C dash-about was shown and, while it required goggles, a linen duster and maps, it “incorporated several attributes that made automotive history.”
The Packard, finally, was deemed “pre-eminent” among automobiles because it “set prevailing styles of automotive beauty and grace” in performance and design. Just as good breeding was essential in people, “the sharply etched Packard hood has taken on the significance of aristocracy.” The make, moreover, “fulfills practically every purpose to which a vehicle has ever been put.” To sum up “dedicated to Youth and Age, to Sport and Commerce, to Royalty and Citizenry, throughout the world of affairs Packard m[a]y be found maintaining the dignity of the Genius of Transportation.”
In its coverage of the dedication, the Los Angeles Times quoted verbatim from the publication, while noting that San Francisco Mayor James Rolph, Jr. and his Angel City counterpart George Cryer attended as did film star Dolores Del Rio. A pageant, including music and pantomime, showing the history of transportation included over 100 artists and the showroom was comprised of an exhibit showing various modes of transportation and was available free to the public for a week. Among the music acts was the Paul Taylor Male Chorus, the Packard Concert Orchestra, and Los Caballeros, under the direction of Juan Aguilar.
The Packard Building has survived over nine decades now, but, as with so many older commercial structures in what is now commonly known as DTLA, is now the Packard Lofts. Notably, in its history page, there is no mention of the 1929 building, just that there was the structure was built at the site for the dealership’s ninth anniversary. In any case, the “Romance of Transportation” publication issued by Anthony for the opening is a very interesting, if romanticized, look at the building and the history of human transport.