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.