“The new home of the Greater Motors Corporation is situated at the intercrossing of Pike, Minor and Melrose. The main entrance is so located that it is visible looking west on Pike Street for quite a distance. The location is considered one of the choicest on automobile row.”*
We’re standing around the corner from Melrose Market and the upcoming Melrose Square. And we’re talking about that arched building in the distance. Today it’s Utrecht art supplies and Volvo of Seattle. In 1962 the building was Lee Moran’s Fiat dealership, International Motors. It’s also been used to sell Mazda, Datsun, Citroen — and Packard, which is shown here in 1921.
But it was built for the short-lived Greater Motors. Just a few months after placing their first order of Templar automobiles, plans were afoot for their new home. Seattle clothier and real estate tycoon Moses Prager built Greater Motors’ garage and sales room on the west side of Seattle’s booming auto row, on the corner of Melrose and Pike.
In1921 Six Arms — just to the right of Utrecht — was a tire company that outfit Packard on a record-setting run. And later it was the storefront of Packard’s chief rival, Peerless Motor.
1919 Templar (Wikipedia)
Seattle’s early automobile industry is clearly a great example of a network society, apparently a juncture of local financiers to fund new corporations, wealthy local customers, and the machinists and mechanics inventing and maintaining cars across the country.
Pike/Pine’s new overlay district looks at auto row as a flat list of extant structures with one historic and one present use. The landmarking process is more informative. For example, Packard’s earlier home at 12th and Pine got the full treatment in 2007, with essays on automobile row, the architect and owners and lists of modifications and other relevant facts.
Stories and lists are fine for expressing the basic information of a landmark form, but they’re poor ways to explore linked, structured information and discover new knowledge. Consider auto row as a multidimensional network with supernodes, strong and weak links. The building is the connection through time between many firms. Each of those firms are connected through owners and employees to other firms.
Greater Motors is an interesting example. Moses Prager and the owners of Greater Motors — Arthur G. Cohen, and L. M. Cohen (if not manager A. R. Dawson) were all Jewish. They began selling Templar automobiles after one of Dawson’s trips to Ohio netted them the distribution contact. Before that, the group was known as Daniels Sales Agency, local distributor of Daniels automobiles. DSA itself was formed as an expansion of a Portland firm. All this occurred in a matter of months.
It’s impossible to answer right now whether the Jewish ownership group is unique and whether they had statistically more Jewish customers than other dealerships. We also can’t verify whether the newspaper’s claims that 1124 Pike’s architectural design was unique, groundbreaking and efficient. We need at least a date-sorted list of buildings, looking at immediate followers. Did they mimic the design, with a central office area that served new sales, used sales and the garage? Better yet, what about companies that employees of Greater Motors went to work for or came from?
Pike west from Broadway, 1921 (Courtesy University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, SEA0475)
Especially strong connections bubble up into the flat data in the preservation district and landmarking processes. For example, if a building still exists, the architect and builder are treasured pieces of information. These provide context to the importance of the building in relation to other parts of the city.
Here’s the story form of the Utrecht building, for the record.
Architect Louis Svarz designed commercial buildings around town including De Honey’s Dance School, now the Public Storage at 13th and Pike. Greater Motors was his first big splash. He also did the Ranke Building down at 5th and Pike.
Moses Prager went on a buying binge in 1920. He sold his home on Spring and Boren to the Catholic Archdiocese (now home to the Seattle Archbishop), bought a mansion on 14th, and bought the Seneca Building downtown.
Dawson, for his part, was manager of the local Willys-Overland distributor before Daniels, and apparently left Seattle after he became regional distributor for Templar.
It requires hours of note-taking to connect the dots between people and places in the Pike/Pine auto row. There are cross-sectional views by auto maker, like the Nash. But what we need is a database, like the Pacific Coast Architecture DB. Focused and specific to Pike/Pine auto dealerships, and tracking the movement of managers, mechanics, and the web of financial and political influence. It won’t replace the need for accessible stories and summaries by the likes of Paul Dorpat and HistoryLink. It will just make those stories better.
* Quote Seattle Times May 16, 1920 page 49.
Thanks again to Brendan McKeon for comments and advice.
In case you missed them, here are the last few Re:Takes on CHS:
- Life at 12th and Union, 1957 and 2011
- Berlin Bakery Beatdown at 9th and James, 1905 and 2011
- Seward’s Foliage in Volunteer Park, 1912 and 2011
Local history expert Rob Ketcherside shares his vision of the past and present with his Re:Take series of works on CHS and other Seattle sites.