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Selling cars in Santa Anna

Cars came to Santa Anna just about as quickly as they did all over America in the early twentieth century. The thing is, there just never was a huge market in Santa Anna, especially after customers bought their first automobile. After the first one, replacements were farther apart for the average rural customer. But residents of the Santa Anna area were as hungry for the automobile as were Americans anywhere. It would seem as if rural citizens would want pickups, but those came later. The pickup didn’t really become popular until the 1950s.

In the August 18, 1961, issue of the Santa Anna News, Miss Lena Boyd says that Henry Hollingsworth owned the first automobile in Santa Anna. This Mr. Hollingsworth must have been sort of a futurist, because he also set up Santa Anna’s first telephone that was available to the public in the Melton Hotel, which stood on the corner east of the Santa Anna National Bank. Also, Mr. Hollingsworth’s sister Mary had the first women’s bicycle in Santa Anna. Other ladies in town were scandalized. The Hollingsworth family must have been adventuresome.

Mrs. Gay doesn’t say where Mr. Hollingsworth bought his car, whatever brand it was, but he very well could have bought it right here. Santa Anna had four new car dealerships at one time. Santa Anna Motor Company was the authorized Ford dealership in Santa Anna beginning in the early 1920s. It was located on the northeast corner of Wallis and Lee Streets in the old tile plant building. In the building where Cen-Tex Real Estate is now, Schreiber Chevrolet came to town some time in the early 1930s. West on Wallis Avenue, next door to The Body Shop Gym stood the Mathews Motor Company. Mathews was the Chevrolet dealer here in the late 1920s and then in the 1930s became the Dodge, Plymouth and Desoto dealer. The sign on the front of that building is still visible there. The earliest car dealer I can find is the Evans and West Garage, pictured here, selling Buick automobiles in 1923 from their mechanic shop. It was located on the northeast scorner of First Street and North Santa Fe.
There are many advertisements in the 1920s Santa Anna News for Ford automobiles from Santa Anna Motor Company. That isn’t surprising, because the Model T Ford was built for the roads of the time. Most of those roads were dirt, muddy, and/or rutted. The Model T was built high up from the ground specifically to pass through that mud or those deep ruts. And Ford sold a bunch of Ts. Citizens in the rural areas could easily see how the high carriage was an advantage if a person lived in the country. Oh, by the way, the T was cheap, too.

In the early years the T cost about $850, but by 1925 a Model T Ford only cost about $300—about $8000 of today’s dollars. By 1928, Ford Motor Company had also developed a financing plan so that lower income Americans (nearly everyone in the Santa Anna area) could own a car.

Early General Motors cars were sold cheaply as well. A 1936 Chevrolet cost $495 at Schreiber Chevrolet on Wallis Avenue. General Motors had an ingenious pricing plan. GM made—in order of rank—Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac. In each brand, the top of the line car was just a tiny bit less expensive than the lowest price of the next line. With this pricing system, customers might be persuaded to buy up to the next level for a more prestigious car. I found a mention in the Santa Anna News that Hardy and Mae Blue had bought a brand new 1925 Chevrolet sedan from Mathews Motor Company for $12 per month.

The Evans and West Garage that was the Oldsmobile dealership in 1923 must not have lasted long. The picture is dated 1923. I find few references to this mechanic shop in the Santa Anna News archive, none of which are after 1935.

The gold medal for long-time service as a car dealer in Santa Anna goes to Mathews Motor Company. Mathews began was an authorized Chevrolet Dealership in 1925, selling parts for both Chevrolet and Ford in the mid- to late-1920s. But soon, Mathews changed over to Chrysler products. Mathews sold Plymouth, Dodge, and Desoto from 1930 until some time in the early 1950s. The last News advertisement citing Mathews as a Dodge and Desoto dealer is in 1953. From then until Mathews closed in 1962, it was solely a mechanic shop with L. K. Wardlow as mechanic, servicing all makes and models of cars and tractors.

From 1923 until 1953 or ‘54, Santa Anna could boast of having a new car dealer and some of those three decades had as many as three dealerships. The post-World War II model of car making was not a proud time for the US. Coming out of the war when no new cars were made, automobile manufacturers felt the US consumer would pretty much buy any new car put out even if it was a “lemon,” a term coined for a new car with defects built in from day one. Bigger and bigger with more chrome and gadgets and more “muscled” motors, American cars rapidly became harder for dealers to sell.

In Santa Anna, the post-war economy, the drought of the fifties, and the loss of young families to jobs in the cities had as bad an effect on car dealers as it did on other aspects of the community. As Americans grew more accustomed to traveling greater distances for everything during the fifties and early sixties, car dealerships in Santa Anna and all over the nation closed, consolidating sales into larger and larger areas.

Santa Anna citizens could once buy any new American-made car—along with two Jersey cows— in their hometown. Now those citizens drive twenty, or sixty, or eighty miles for a new vehicle. And think nothing of it. I wonder what Jody Mathews or Andrew Schreiber would think of that.