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Artwork Over Bemis & Moe Repair Departments Sooths Motorists

Car owners who take their vehicle to a garage for repairs or service tend to get anxious beforehand and during the process. Bemis and Moe the owners of this “Super Station” located in San Jose, California, at the corner of South Second and San Carlos Streets no doubt learned this and used artwork to calm customers down and attract new business in the late-1920s.

Above each of the twelve bays at the facility landscape paintings or prints were used that appear to form a continuous scene over the various departments at the facility. On the far-left (below) is a “Prest-O-Light” (acetylene tank) service outlet and on the far-right (second photo below) a full-service Richfield gasoline station where fuel was dispensed from hand-operated glass cylinder pumps.

A multi-story public parking garage and retail shops are located on the property today.

Share with us what you find of interest or can add to this post. The photograph is courtesy of the King Library Special Collections.

View hundreds of other vintage gasoline station pictures featured here earlier on The Old Motor.

26 responses to “Artwork Over Bemis & Moe Repair Departments Sooths Motorists

  1. No wonder all those old cars look dirty, $2 bucks for a wash job! (almost $30 dollars today)That was half a days pay for most. I think mama would break out the rolling pin if she knew you spent $2 dollars to get the car washed. That 5 globe street light is cool, and never saw a speed limit( 15 mph) like that.

  2. Wow! A visual feast here. Thanks, Dave. I found the sign “All Script Gladly Accepted” to be very interesting. Must have gotten a lot of business from nearby military bases. I noticed the sign “Plating Department”. Talk about “Full Service” – looks like they did it all.

  3. I wonder if the difference in the car wash price was the size of the vehicle, or the level of “detail” work done??

  4. Presto lite is now an electrical company just like Delco. They mainly do stationary equipment starters and generators. I recently replaced a power generator starter motor and it was a Prestolite. The auto electric parts depot had a reman unit on the shelf. Anyone remember the trick when you had to replace the generator on an older car?
    Flash the field before starting.

    • We called it “polarizing the generator’, and oddly enough, with all the generator things I’ve had, I never had to do that.

  5. FIRST PICTURE: I wonder if each bay of the garage really is a separate department or if that’s just hype. If they are, there must have been a whole lot of shuffling going on for cars that required multiple repairs.

    Noticed that every single car in the picture has a “continental” mounted spare tire, a trend that finally died out in the late ’50’s, I think. (Not counting those fake “hump suggestons” on the trunks of Lincolns in the 60’s and 70’s.)

    • Back then, tires were very wide, and cars rarely had trunks. So mounting them outside the body, either in back or on the front fender, was the only option.

  6. SECOND PICTURE: Does anyone know what the sign “All script gladly accepted” means? I assume “script” was some form of currency or payment. What kind of script existed then? Being San Jose, does it mean they accepted Mexican money too?

    • I know this much: my dad was stationed on a U.S. Naval base in Japan. The naval personnel on base were paid in a paper currency called “script” instead of U.S. dollars. It was readily accepted off base. That said, does anyone know for sure?

      • Mr. P,

        I’m pretty sure you got it in one.

        I HAVE heard of military script. I’m guessing they used that to keep soldiers from patronizing places they shouldn’t be. The closeness of military bases makes more sense than Mexican currency.

      • Military Payment Certificates (MPCs) were used overseas to avoid injecting US greenbacks into the local economies there which might not always be completely friendly but, as stated, there were generally ways of exchanging them for local currency. This was certainly the case in VN, altho honestly, I can’t remember how we used to do that – whether that was strictly a black market sort of transaction or there was an official means of doing so.

        Had greenbacks been used there, they could easily have been exported to the North where the could have been used essentially world-wide to purchase war materiel since US currency is a global medium of exchange. MPCs, on the other hand, only have value in the country where they are issued since ultimately they can only be converted thru the military power issuing them.

        Stateside, we were always paid in real money altho it’s possible that was not the case in th 20s in CA. I know “scrip” (the correct spelling, I believe) was also issued by large corporations in “company towns” but would that have been the case here?

      • A further dive into MPCs on Wkipedia shows they only came about after the end of WWII and were revivied for the VN conflict, so that would not be the reference here.

        • Very interesting about the use of the word “Script”. It seems like maybe this was a contortion of the word “Scrip” which would fit properly on the sign but is a more obscure word these days. This brings up the question as to whether the word “script” really meant “scrip” but the vernacular of the time (or this one owner) used this word to represent payment slips of all types (checks, truckers payments, promissory notes, etc). I did a tiny bit of research to see if this was a common word in the 20’s. I did not come up with evidence of that. But it is a guess.

  7. The Bemis & Moe Super Station started out in the spring of 1919 as the Motor Electric Service Company at 245 N. 2nd Street in San Jose. Around 1926 they expanded their business with the location at 2nd and Santa Clara. About 1928 the business name changed to Bemis & Moe. The firm lasted until circa 1948 when the property became an automotive parking lot owned by James W. Curtis.

    In addition to the service station business a funeral home appears to have been allowed to use the property to park their customer’s cars. Whether this was an infrequent occurrence or if there was a standing rental agreement is unknown.

    Bemis was Vernon L. Bemis who was born in Elbow Lake, Minnesota in 1893. He died in Santa Barbara in 1956. Moe was Arthur Moe who was born in Blackriver Falls, Wisconsin in 1891. He died in 1973.

    You can read more about each of them at the following link which will take you to the Vernon Bemis page. To read the portion about Arthur Moe in the same publication, simply type his name in the search box at the left of the page. Replace the two instances of the word “dot” in the link below with a period.

    books dot google dot com/books?id=2GLqHmo-wjIC&pg=PA1425&dq=%22vernon+l+bemis%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiTl7Kxju_dAhUEr1kKHWnKCUUQ6AEIKzAB#v=onepage&q=%22vernon%20l%20bemis%22&f=false

  8. Arthur Moe (born 1892) and V.L. Bemis organized as “Motor Electric Service Company” and established in San Jose at 245 North Second Street about 1920. See “History of Santa Clara County with biographical sketches” published 1922.

  9. I’m kind of curious what’s going on with the door on the coupe with the landau arms just below the “Prest-o-lite” sign. I notice the seat base resting against the front fender, so there was some disassembly in process. But it looks like the door doesn’t quite fit. Did bodies ever “settle” back then? Or is it just propped open and taken at an odd angle?

  10. Car ID not very sure suggestions. L-R: 1926-1927 Ford coupe, Esssex coupe, Dodge sedan, Studebaker phaeton, Buick sedan, unknown, unknown.

  11. Prest-O-Lite started out making the exchangeable tanks for compressed acetylene that replaced carbide generators to provide fuel for headlights and some early starting devices. By the time of this photo (1920’s), electric lighting and starting was the norm (though some trucks retained gas lights) and Prest-O-Lite was making batteries. As stated previously, the company survives today.

  12. I love the restive nature scenes over the garage doors. Today we’d see those annoying 5 second flip computer generated images.

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