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Earle C. Anthony’s Early Days – A Packard Pioneer

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Earl C. Anthony is perhaps best known as the Packard distributor for the state California from 1915 to 1958. Our top photo shows him at the dawn of his interest in the motorcar. It was a thoroughly respectable, if primitive, effort for one so young and inexperienced. Built in 1897 when he was just seventeen years old, sources say that he fabricated his own batteries and half horsepower electric motor to power it.

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  • San Francisco Showroom photos – An artist’s rendering of the exterior

After studying engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, Anthony returned to southern California and opened one of the first car dealerships in Los Angeles. He became a distributor for eighteen brands and by 1905 had secured the Packard franchise. That same year, he was one of the founders of the Los Angeles Motorcar Dealer’s Association and in 1907 was a principle organizer of first Los Angeles Automobile Show.

A long trail of innovations would follow. Anthony and a group of fellow entrepreneurs opened L.A.’s first full service gas station in 1913 after becoming frustrated by the difficulties his customers experienced obtaining fuel for their cars. He was first in the country to use neon signs to advertise his business and founded radio stations KFI and KECA, the former eventually becoming one of the first “clear channel” powerhouse operations in the United States.

SFANTHis “Palace of Packards” located at 901 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco

In subsequent years, he would expand his operations throughout the state including the spectacular location in San Francisco seen above. At one point, his dealerships sold one out of every seven Packards purchased in California. By the time our last photo was taken, Earl C. Anthony had been doing business for thirty years. He had become an institution in the car culture of the state and provided the sharp Packard 120 to lead the Flag Day parade that opened the Los Angeles baseball season in 1935. Photos courtesy of the Larz Anderson Museum, the Detroit Public Library and UC Berkeley.

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21 responses to “Earle C. Anthony’s Early Days – A Packard Pioneer

  1. What a fancy car dealership. I wondered if the building still existed and due to the miracle of Google Earth and with the address provided, I was able to take a look. It’s still there!! It’s unaltered for the most part and is now British Motor Cars, a Jaguar-Land Rover dealership now. I’m glad no one tore it down to put up apartments.

    • Another cool thing with Google Maps is that you can actually zoom into the interior of the dealership. (Just zoom in on the front door). Seems like much of the interior architecture has been preserved too. Also, there’s a Bentley/Lotus dealership next door now, where the Hudson Essex billboard is in the photo – you can go inside that dealership too.

  2. Mr. Anthony was quite a fellow indeed. Out in the sagebrush a few years ago, I found a rusted touring car, up under the dash of which, was a brass Earl C. Anthony tag! In the course of my research I found that in addition to being an automobile dealer extrordinaire, and a true pioneer in the radio business, he also supported California Universities. He was a liberal supporter of Stanford, as I recall. As for the brass ID plate, it sold on ebay for what I thought was an impressive sum.
    Perry

    • Anthony was a vigorous supporter of UC Berkeley, his alma mater, donating an entire building to honor a since defunct campus publication called the Pelican which he had funded and edited as a student. The building remains as Anthony Hall and is now used for other purposes. His will provided for a trust which divided much of his estate, proceeds from the eventual sale of KFI, between UC and Pasadena’s Cal-Tech. There is no record of his ever having supported Stanford, however .

      “This office in historic Earle C. Anthony Hall (aka “The Pelican Building”) represents Cal’s 10,000 graduate students and is supported by student fees. The office disburses travel grants for grad students to present their research at conferences outside the Bay Area. It runs events ranging from beer nights to workshops on PowerPoint presentations and writing scholarly articles. Several groups focus on grad students of color, who are greatly underrepresented at Cal. The Graduate Assembly also lobbies for students’ interests in Sacramento and Washington.

      The very cute Pelican Building itself, commissioned in the 1950s by wealthy alum Earle C. Anthony, was granted city landmark status in February 2011. Before becoming one of America’s top dealers in Packard autos, Anthony founded Cal’s campus humor magazine, the California Pelican, in 1903. He celebrated the Pelican’s 50th anniversary by donating the building. Originally, it was to have been designed by Bernard Maybeck, who was then in his 90s. The master handed the job off to Cal architecture prof Joseph Esherick, who incorporated enough Maybeckisms into the design that the building seems a lot older than it really is. The university wasn’t wild about a bunch of sophomoric humor writers getting their own building, but humored Anthony, as it were, in the hope he would donate more money later to larger causes. So worried was Anthony that the building might be taken from his beloved humor writers that he demanded gigantic pelican plaques for it that would be impossible to remove.

      Sadly, the magazine foundered, and the building was given in 1978 to the Graduate Assembly. Into the Pelican Building’s fireplace mantel is carved a motto pertinent to both humor writers and graduate students: “If You Can’t Be Good Be Careful.”

    • I have a brass plate says sold by earl c anthony inc. KFI-KEGA California distributor. Tells when to change and grease car. This is closest to something like I found so far.

  3. I am very interested to chat with anyone that has more information about the EC Anthony dealership in SF (901 Van Ness) and any records they have regarding Hudson vehicles that were sold there.

    • I want to learn more about the success you may have had in researching records of the EC Anthony dealership. Just purchased a 1937 Packard V12 Five-passenger coupe that bears the brass plate of origin. I want to research the history of my vehicle. Any info you can provide will be very much appreciated.

      • I am also researching a low production 1938 Packard V12 Touring Cabriolet originally sold by the Earle B. Anthony dealership on Van Ness in San Francisco. Have you located any Anthony San Francisco dealership records from this time? So far have contacted the Detroit Public Library Archives who have company photographs and the Studebaker Museum archives in South Bend, IN. So far no San Francisco dealer sales records.

  4. The Earl Anthony dealership on Van Ness was designed by a famous architect …Maybeck, who was also responsible for some of the permanent architecture at the 1915 Panama-Pacific exposition grounds near the Yacht Club.

  5. I was certainly surprised to be informed that Earle C. Anthony had once owned a Hudson dealership that was located in downtown Los Angeles, particularly as I once read a brief account which mentioned that he had fired two of his workers for driving Hudsons to work instead of Packards! Well one day around twenty years ago, I was taking a stroll in downtown LA and happened to look up and see embossed near the top of an old red brick building in faded white letters the distinct word of Hudson. Now there is a very beautiful picture of that building when it was brand new that can be found in the dealership section of the HudsonJet.net web site. I had thought that the Hudson name which I saw had probably dated from around 1950, but it turns out that the building with name included was opened in April of 1939. I checked it out on Google and the building is still there, although just the shell remains now as it is has been deserted and abandoned. So who knows how much longer it will remain standing at that locale which is 1200 Hope Street. The article mentions that a man by the name of Frank Hughes was to be the head of a new LA sales group. So I guess that Earle Anthony decided to unload his Hudson franchise and concentrate on the many Packard dealerships that he owned out on the west coast. And I’m not surprised frankly, as Hudson almost went under in 1938, because all they sold that year was 50,000 autos, which was the same amount incidentally as they did in 1954 when they were forced to close their Detroit factory, and largely on account of the expensive failure of the ill fated Jet. So it was definitely a pleasure to see a few pictures of Earle C. Anthony’s long gone LA Hudson dealership from the mid 1930’s. Yes indeed, as I am a big Hudson fan!

    • The former ‘Hudson’ dealership at 1200 S. Hope Street is extant, but if you look at the back of the building from the alley, you will see a ‘ghost sign’ that reads in faded yellow paint: REO SPEEDWAGON and below that, USED CARS.

      AFAIK, this was the original REO distributorship building. Anthony’s Packard dealership at 1000 S. Hope Street also is extant and has been converted to lofts (called Packard Lofts). This building was expanded in the 1930’s by Bernard Maybeck.

      Originally across the street at the SW corner of Hope & Olympic was Anthony’s Packard truck dealership. I remember going there in the early 1960’s, where a big sign with an arrow pointed across the street to Anthony’s Packard showroom.

      Simonson-Schactmayer Inc., the Packard dealer at 17th & Wilshire in Santa Monica also sold Hudson’s.

  6. I now own a Daimler “Dart” SP250 which was sold by Earl C Anthony in 1960. I wonder if there are any records of where it went prior to its re export back to the UK.

    • Hi Howard,
      I indeed am the current owner of a 1960 LHD SP250 that was sold by Earle C Anthony. Original colour I believe was white so is this possibly your vehicle. ?????
      Kind Rgds
      Rueelll Nisbet
      Australia.

  7. In the early 1970’s, when the facility was operating as Van Ness Chrysler Plymouth, I worked there as a sales manager. Although the building was in need of repair, it was fascinating, like being in a time machine. The radio towers were taken down while I was there. I remember the wrecking company inadvertently dropping a section of one tower onto several cars parked on Ellis Street. There was a treasure trove of antique office equipment in storage, including a stand-up accounting machine with a patent date of around 1900 as I recall. We had an old wall safe removed and behind it we found a picture of Mr. Anthony with a mustache drawn on it, obviously placed there during the original construction.

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