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Chevrolet Assembly Plant Grand Opening Van Nuys, California

In light of the recently announced closures of General Motors passenger car assembly plants at Lordstown, Ohio, and Hamtramck, Michigan we decided to take a look at two assembly plants GM has closed in the past. The new Chevrolet plant at Van Nuys, CA, located 22-miles northwest of Los Angeles and the GM plant in Freemont, CA, 34-miles southeast of the Oakland, CA plant it replaced.

The lead image shows part of the large crowd that attended a three-day grand opening at the Van Nuys facility held on February 19-21, 1948, and the nine large spotlights in front of the building used to guide visitors to the site in the evening hours. The photo (below) contains bumper to bumper traffic on Van Nuys Boulevard and people walking to the Plant to take the grand opening tour of the facility.

We will return in the near future with pictures of the assembly line in operation. Share with us what you find of interest in the photographs courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.


22 responses to “Chevrolet Assembly Plant Grand Opening Van Nuys, California

      • Tom and Will,

        Whenever I see one of these “crowd at opening” photos that David so kindly posts, I have to wonder were times so dull then, that people would dress up and turn out for something like a plant or filling station opening? Now-a-days, you would only get those kinds of crowds if you were giving away free Chevys at the opening. People are so blasé now.

        • People were just so much more formal and cared about their appearance, even in Kalifornia. My mom, even though a country girl who grew up rarely wearing shoes and without the convenience of an out house (yeah, really), never wore slacks except for the company picnics and vacations and made sure we dressed appropriately as kids. Here in Japan it is somewhat similar, but not quite as formal, as most people are clean and well dressed. Maybe this is one reason so many of their products still have that aura of quality. As for the lines of people, after the war I am pretty sure most folks were interested in getting back to normal with factories pumping out civilian stuff instead of tanks….plus the added interest of seeing an assembly line up close.

  1. Those were exciting times, with great hope for the future. Passed by the Lordstown plant during the summer. Sad to see it close. Opening shot, nice 1940 Ford Coupe. Followed by a 1941 Mercury business coupe. Beat up 35 Ford 2 door by curb.

  2. In the Lead photo, there appears to be a grey ’41 Mercury coupe following a black ’40 Ford De Luxe Coupe. On this side in the right corner looks to be a ’46-’48 Plymouth 4-door sedan.

    In the traffic on Van Nuys Boulevard is a dark ’46 Chevy coming towards us and a white ‘46 Ford Tudor Sedan in the center

  3. Chevrolets are noticeably few in these two photos.

    Photo 1 — Among the cars driving by is 1939 Chevy followed 2 cars back by what is likely a 1937 or 1938 Chevrolet coupe. Otherwise I see 3 fords, 2 Plymouths, 2 Buicks and a Mercury.

    Photo 2 — Other than the 1946 Chevrolet noted by Pat W I see no other identifiable Chevrolets.

  4. I grew up 2 blocks away from the Van Nuys GM plant, living there from early 1950’s until the early 70’s. I used to love hearing the engines moving and shifting the freight cars on the train tracks on the siding next to this large plant. These freight cars brought some of the raw materials to build the cars, and then shipped the cars out to the dealers. I never toured the plant though, although I now wish I had done so. The plant site has been developed into a shopping center.

  5. Anyone interested in American auto history and plant closures should read two stories in the archives of the Los Angeles Times in the early ’90s and compare them with stories on Lordstown in the early ’70s and today.

    These hints will send you on your way:

    Van Nuys Assembly plant is “The Plant” today, a commercial development with 16 screens and an In-N-Out.

    That may make it look Californian, but its architecture and its tenant list make it look like almost any place in America. I do not know it the adjacent GM test facility/proving ground survives or is still in operation there.

    Search for “Decron Properties The Plant” for a further look.

  6. Oakland is about 380-400 miles North of Van Nuys, in the Bay area.
    I was fortunate enough to tour this plant back in the early 1980’s when they were assembling Camaros and Firebirds.
    What I found appalling was that as soon as the vehicle was under it’s own power, they drove it on a dynamo styled device, slammed on the brakes and then they floored the gas, full throttle. The engine and drive train were screaming. I assume it was a “if it doesn’t blow up on this dynamo, put it out for delivery” test.
    And then they tell you to break the car in, carefully. lol

  7. According to its VIN and Fisher Body ID plates my 1956 Chevrolet was assembled in the Oakland plant some time in January, 1956. Chevrolet operated 10 assembly plants in the U.S. around that time and produced cars in the neighborhood of 1.5 million per year (’55-’57, for example).

  8. It would have been neat to see those 9 searchlights in the sky at night. I remember going miles to find where the gala event was when we saw that beam in the sky.

  9. Not sure how many of you have been on a modern assembly line, but I had the privilege of viewing a Toyota line building Caribs (Awd station wagon) for several markets. Really intriguing and interesting to watch how the Just in Time System worked. From what I have seen here of early auto plants (the Ford Vid, etc.) I would imagine this plant was such a draw for good reason.

    • JIT is a monsterous improvement, I agree. It is amazing that it works. The history of the JIT mfg movement is in itself fascinating subject. It rolls post-war influence to/through Japan, and back to the U.S. eventually (much delayed) based upon techniques that evolved form the quality movements inspired by Deming and manufacturing techniques inspired by Taiichi Ohno.

  10. In 1948 Americans were still coming out of the trauma of WW2. Opening an auto plant that was designed not only to build thousands of highly -anticipated reminders that the war was over, and offer thousands of well-paying jobs to the community, but that looked like a national monument WAS a very big deal ….

  11. “For years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country. Our contribution to the nation is considerable.” -Charles Erwin Wilson

  12. Van Nuys is in the San Fernando Valley, part of the city of Los Angeles. I grew up in “The Valley,” and toured the plant in 1963 and 1964 with a group from school. I still have (somewhere) the booklets that were given out, with photos of the assembly line (the 1964 book had retouched photos from the 1963 book). My father, an insurance agent during the 1980s, had a client who worked on the line; he would tell him tales that made one wonder why anyone would buy a GM car during those years.

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