Then & Now: Downtown Car Dealerships

Auto dealers on Broadway Street, 1974 | Photo by Douglas Miller

Auto dealers on Broadway Street, 1974 | Photo by Douglas Miller

Like in many small towns in America, auto dealerships once dotted the main drag in Laguna Beach’s downtown, bringing to mind a simpler era that longtime residents may recall. Now, a search turns up only a few used car companies tucked back in Laguna Canyon and one on South Coast Highway.

But in 1957, as many as four car dealerships could be found along Broadway Street: South Coast Ford, Tommy Ayres Chevrolet, Siemonsma Buick, and Allen Oldsmobile and Cadillac. The list is referenced in a timeline put together by Jim Rue and Charles Quilter—with assistance from the Laguna Beach Historical Society and other residents—in 1999, at which point they noted no businesses selling new cars remained in the city.

A photo from 1974 shows the Chevrolet and Ford/Mercury dealerships across the street from each other on Broadway at Beach Street. The former Chevy building, at 350 Broadway, now houses Laguna Rug Gallery and Laguna Tire and Service shop, while the Ford/Mercury space has transformed into The Plaza, a two-story retail and office center.

Beach and Broadway streets, 2015 | Photo by Jody Tiongco

Beach and Broadway streets, 2015 | Photo by Jody Tiongco

Down the street, several auto dealers once occupied the 1935-era Mediterranean revival-style building at 217 Broadway. According to the city’s historic resources inventory, the structure was originally used by Laguna Beach Motors Co., which sold Chevys and Oldsmobiles, then became the Frost-Rawley Chevrolet Co. by 1940. The space changed ownership again in the late 1940s, when Stan Allen ran an Oldsmobile and Cadillac dealership there until 1956.

Stan’s son, Dennis, eventually moved the Allen Automotive Group to Laguna Niguel, where it added GMC to the lineup and continues its long tradition today. The company’s former space on Broadway is now occupied by Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico restaurant. An additional leg of the building, which had extended to South Coast Highway, was removed and replaced by a gas station and Food Village plaza.

Now, the only new cars driving by or filling up at the station were purchased outside of the city, but there was a time when Lagunans seeking a shiny set of wheels could pick out the latest model without ever leaving town.

—Written by Laguna Beach Magazine Staff

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