Modernization, Aesthetics and Respect for History

Disclosure:  This post appeared originally in different form on a private social media page.

This post addresses exterior changes in a historic car dealership building located at the southwest corner of Van Ness Ave. and Bush Street in San Francisco.  The dealership was founded by Ellis Brooks during the 1930s, and originally sold REOs, and then Hudsons to families whose daughters were reading early Nancy Drew mysteries.  The business went through many changes before moving to a smaller storefront around the corner. 

If you’ve been curious about the fate of the historic Ellis Brooks Chevrolet neon sign at Bush & Van Ness, I have some bad news.

When it disappeared more than a few years ago, I was hoping the sign had gone to an urban history museum.

No such luck.  The sign was stripped, and covered so the next building occupant (a Nissan/Infiniti dealer) could cover it with something more modern.

Now it appears the street level of the building is vacant again, so we can see the skeletal remains of one of my few pleasant childhood memories.

A few years ago, I went into the current Ellis Brooks location, a smaller building around the corner on Bush Street.  I asked about the sign, and the person I spoke with became very uncomfortable.  That was the tip-off that the sign wasn’t in the Smithsonian.  Okay, the Smithsonian may be a bit grand for something that most people would dismiss as a local novelty, but I hoped this classic was at least in a decent storage locker somewhere.

Growing up in Oakland, I saw the television adverts for the Ellis Brooks dealership.  A vocalist who imitated Dinah Shore’s singing voice performed the Chevrolet jingle, with the lyrics changed so the local business could be identified in the song (Dinah Shore had an endorsement contract with Chevrolet, and sang the jingle for the brand commercials).

In case you’re having trouble seeing or understanding the photo I took this morning, the ruined sign is the dilapidated, peeling vertical mess in the center.  It used to have neon-lit letters that illuminated in chronological order at night, followed by the whole sign blinking the name CHEVROLET at anyone who was looking.

I used to see it as my parents and I were driving out of the city after visiting friends.  As we approached, I always hoped the sign would be within my view long enough for me to see the entire series of the mini-lightshow.

Occasionally, one letter on the sign would be burnt out and cause disappointment, but that was nothing compared to this.

Please don’t dismiss this as minor.  People should understand what San Francisco and other cities are losing to modernization.

Don’t get me started on the orange Union 76 gas station ball, which, to my kowledge, has disappeared from everywhere.  If you know of anyplace where one of these treasures is preserved, please leave a comment below.

While I’m at it, I’ll dedicate this blog post to the Dachshund head that used to grace Doggie Diners.  Some of those charming bits of kitsch are still around, thanks to people who have bought them and put them on public display.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  The Master of Modernization knows!*

*Apologies to Lamont Cranston


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