Tracing Tracy Territory: Changes coming for early auto row
by Sam Matthews
Dec 14, 2012 | 1998 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When the Levand Building at the corner of 11th Street and Holly Drive turns into rubble beginning Monday, Dec. 17, it will mark the demise of not only a historic building, but also one of the last visible reminders of Tracy’s first “auto row.”

That will be doubly the case in the following weeks or months, when the former Monument Auto Parts building at 11th and F streets is demolished.

Both buildings, with their classic mission-revival façades, were visible symbols of the growth of the age of the automobile in Tracy in the first decades of the 20th century.

The Levand Building, originally the West Side Garage, was an early arrival in 1914. The former Monument building, which has a less certain history, is believed to have come onto the scene some time in the 1920s.

It was during the years immediately before and after World War I that automobiles morphed from something of a novelty in a horse-drawn world to a major mode of transportation — and a growing commercial enterprise.

In the first decade of the 20th century, early automobiles barely made a dent in the business world and Tracy.

The Fabian-Grunauer Co., Tracy’s leading mercantile firm of the era, was selling Studebakers from its store at Sixth Street and Central Avenue. Other autos were sold at garages or machine shops in the downtown area.

As highways in the area were gradually improved — straightened out and some even paved — 11th Street became a more important thoroughfare, no longer just “the county road.”

That became especially true in 1914, when 11th Street beat out Grant Line Road to be designated a stretch of the new Lincoln Highway that cobbled together roads across the U.S. into a single system.

And in 1914, Charles Slack had just constructed the building at Sixth and Central, which now houses El Castillo and Thai Café restaurants, and was rebuilding the Arlington Theatre building farther west on Sixth Street.

He and his brother-in-law Abe Grunauer, Tracy’s first mayor, were ready to develop their property known as Lincoln Manor, located between Center Street (later Holly Drive) and East Street and from 11th Street north to Eaton Avenue.

Construction of a new auto dealership building for the Dwelly brothers at a strategic corner of the property made all kinds of sense, and Slack did just that in constructing the West Side Garage.

“The garage, when done, will be one of the finest along the highway,” commented Henry Hull, editor of the Tracy Press.

Other commercial buildings on the north side of 11th and homes on 12th Street and Highland Avenue were being built in the Lincoln Manor area then and in the years following in the 1920s. In the 1930s, the Slack family donated the property that became Lincoln Park to the city.

Guy Stewart — a local boy who started his own auto dealership at 10th and Central after buying Harry Penny’s garage — in the 1920s moved his Central Garage, the local Essex and Hudson agency, to where Accent Carpets is now on 11th Street.

Stewart, who had one of the longest tenures on 11th Street, later became the Pontiac-Cadillac-GMC dealer.

The building at 11th and F that later became Graco Farm Implements, Helms Tractor and Tracy Auto Parts was believed to have housed one of the first Ford dealerships.

Ford later moved to 11th and B streets, which was rebuilt in the 1940s, remained its home until Stan Morri Ford moved to the Tracy Auto Plaza in 1998.

To the west on 11th Street, Al Labrucherie, the energetic Frenchman, opened Highway Garage in the 1920s in the building now housing In-Shape Sports Club at the corner of 11th and Parker Avenue. He sold Willys-Knight and Whippet autos, and later Pontiacs.

George Mellin operated Valley Chevrolet in the 1920s at 68 E. 11th St., where Joe Castro, the best mechanic of any Tracy auto dealer, later operated Castro Olds.

In looking back at issues of the Press

during that era, it was obvious the early auto sales business in Tracy was in a state of constant flux, with dealers and brands coming, going — and changing — in rapid order.

One constant location in those early days was the West Side Garage.

Its place as an early auto row anchor was solidified when Jake Levand, a former salesman for the Goodrich Tire and Rubber Co., came to town in 1921 to sell Studebakers there. The shop became the Chevrolet-Buick dealership in 1932.

Now, nearly a century after Charles Slack built the West Side Garage, it will be, in just a few short days, a pile of rubble.

Hopefully, a new, tastefully designed building — even in modern mission-revival style, perhaps — will arise from that rubble, providing a new anchor for a corner that still, nearly a century later, has strategic importance for our town.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracypress.com.
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