Downey’s Abandoned Space Age Cadillac Dealership
Last month, when my dad and brother were visiting, we went to one of my dad’s old haunts, Bob’s Big Boy in Downey, formerly Harvey’s Broiler. My dad grew up in Bell and Downey at the height of car culture, and as we were headed back to Anaheim we drove by a stunning abandoned relic of that time period. I literally screamed “What is that!?” trying to keep my eyes on the road while also taking in the mid-century glory outside the window. “Oh yeah, that was a Cadillac dealership when I was a teenager” my dad recalled. I made a mental note of where it was and vowed to return to photograph it. Which is exactly what I did earlier this week.
My dad’s memory was correct, it was indeed a Cadillac dealership, right up until it closed in 2009. The dealership was owned by Bob Spreen, who had been selling Cadillacs since 1952, but moved his dealership to Downey in sometime around 1964-1965. I’m making a guess here, as you’ll notice, the captain to the right of the photo below reads that Spreen moved his dealership to Downey “a little over a year ago” and I’m pretty sure the car on display is a 1967 Cadillac. The photo is from a Downey Camber of Commerce booklet, which is sadly undated.
Designed by John Andre Gougeon, the dealership building itself is classic mid-century, with its multi-level flat roof, but the crowing jewel of it is the jaw-dropping pavilion like structure out front to display vehicles. The Downey Conservancy said the pavilion was “a unique feature from the height of LA car culture: the sculpted overlapping columns and capitals would shelter Detroit’s latest Cadillac design, while the fountain circling it appeared to lift it effortlessly into the air.” I would like to image the platform also rotated.
In 2014, the property was being prepped for demolition, as noted in this Downey Patriot article, which is when the Downey Conservancy begged for it to be repurposed, stating “Too often developers and cities seek a flat, blank site by default, but that is not always the best solution for the city’s livability or quality of life. Rarely does the replacement building come up to the quality of a good midcentury building like this.” And I couldn’t agree more. And I hope that at least the pavilion is saved.
When looking at Google satellite images and Google street-viewing the property you can see there was another structure, however it has since been demolished, yet the rest of the dealership, and the iconic pavilion remain, and I can find no further updates as to its fate.
Above two images are screencaps from Google Satellite and Google Street View.
To be clear, I shot through and above the chainlink fence that surrounds the property. I did not climb over the fence. I usually abide by “No Trespassing” signs, and this is on a fairly busy street.
Hopefully this tale will have a happy ending and I can post an update sometime in the future!
November 2020 Update: Sadly, demolition has begun on the property.
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14 comments on “Downey’s Abandoned Space Age Cadillac Dealership”
Stunning! I will keep my fingers crossed that it remains and becomes something that the community will love. Bothers me so much when architectural history like this is lost to modern day needs.
Oh I do hope it’s repurposed! It would be such a shame for it to be demolished. That pavilion is really quite space age isn’t it?
Great find. The fountain is what I remember most from my youth. Come to think of it… anything with a water feature is what I remember most from my youth. Glad to see it still standing… sad to see it without cars on the lot.
Always your pal – and cousin! : )
Your photos of abandoned places are always so stunning! I hope that it can be repurposed too- I find it so sad that our current culture’s mentality is to demolish everything, rather than use what is already there.
Thank you so much!! It’s good knowing people enjoy seeing them! And, yes, fingers crossed!!
Big fan of the article. My grandfather was Bob Spreen. The property in question is still owned by the original family that leased it to my grandfather. We are still in the car business today, third generation, now selling Honda’s, Mazda’s, and Acura’s. But we would definitely like to bring that location back to life. We have had discussions with the city and just need the right opportunities to align themselves. It is a historical site, so it could be brought back up to its original spec, and maybe a little bit of modern flare. Great Location. “Where the freeway’s meet in Downey!” Email me anytime if you want to follow up, email@example.com
This so sad to see this beautiful building sitting empty. I worked as a switchboard operator for Bob Spreen Cadillac when they were still in Huntington Park and moved with them to the new location.My husband was the Service Mgr. and was there till he retired.
I grew up in Anaheim and I remember Bob Spreen Cadillac very well! I recall their TV commercials and my Grandmother who lived in nearby Lakewood, bought a beautiful Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special from there around 1967-68. You could see their sign from the Santa Ana freeway. I had been wondering if the dealership was still there! Sadly, it is gone…
Well, the abandoned former Bob Spreen Cadillac dealership is no more. As of December 13th, 2020 the entire remnants of the dealership has been razed and loaded into dumpsters and carted off. Another Downey historic landmark bites the dust.
Bob Spreen Cadillac was immortalized in a Frank Zappa tune, “Billy the Mountain.”
May we all someday meet to the sound of harp glissandos “where the freeways meet in Downey.”
I grew up in Bell too. I remember this Cadillac dealership. It was all lit up with lights and there was a beautiful caddy on that round slab of cement in the middle. Wow! Thanks for posting it. I might even know your dad!
THE SPACE AGE PAVILION AT BOB SPREEN CADILLAC WAS THE SETTING TO SHOW CASE AND ADVERTISE CADILLACS FROM 1967! “A beautiful place to lease or buy a beautiful car!” Bob Spreen Cadillac, where the freeways meet in Downey!”
The tag line heard throughout all of Southern California on television for many years from 1967! I even bought a new Cadillac there in 1987 and I lived in Saratoga California at the time!
I was always proud of Downey while I lived there ! Great pride of ownership as there was so many lovely neighborhoods!