Rotogravure Sunday – Studebaker Edition

As a teenager Paul G. Hoffman (1891-1974) lived out every boy’s fantasy by becoming a daredevil racecar driver. The son of an inventor, Hoffman was fascinated by the mechanical and he was so taken by these wonderous machines he decided to make the automobile his life. At 20 he made it official, dropping out of college in his native Illinois and coming west to Los Angeles where he got a job as a grease monkey with the local Studebaker distributor. By the time he was 34, Hoffman was no longer draining crankcases – he was president of Paul G. Hoffman, Inc., Los Angeles and Orange County’s official Studebaker distributor and a millionaire at that. He would later rise even higher, becoming CEO and Chairman of Studebaker itself from 1935-1948 and again from 1953-1956.

Hoffman made the cover of Time in 1949.

With World War II, Hoffman began moving into government and civic service, taking leave from Studebaker in 1948 to oversee the Marshall Plan, appointed by President Truman as director of the Economic Cooperation Administration. Between 1951-1953 he was the president of the Ford Foundation and in 1966, at the age of 75, he was named first Administrator of the United Nations Development program, a position he was to hold until 1972. A few months before his death in 1974 at the age of 83, Hoffman was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald R. Ford.  As Mark Rhoads was to write for the Illinois State Society’s biography of Hoffman as a member of the State Hall of Fame, “Paul Hoffman’s greatest contribution in public service was not as an automobile executive but as a businessman for peace.” A worthy legacy indeed.

A 1920's view of Figueroa Street and Pico.

But there was no denying he was also a great automobile man and by 1920, he had guided the Los Angeles Studebaker franchise to such a success it was able to move into a magnificent new headquarters on what was then automobile row, Figueroa Street, just south of downtown. The headquarters of Paul G. Hoffman, Inc., located at 1250 South Figueroa Street, opened with gala fanfare in June of 1920 and was a landmark at Pico and Fig for the next thirty years until in 1950 it went the way of the Dodo.

And today (via Google Earth)

As part of their advertising campaign in the mid-1920’s, Paul G. Hoffman, Inc. ran a series of beautiful advertisements in Touring Topics showing the latest Studebaker models in front of attractive Southern California scenes. I thought you would enjoy seeing some of these as a little mini tour of a few choice Southern California sites via Studebaker and with a few additional comments from the Peanut Gallery (i.e. me).

Here's a Studebaker Special Six duplex-phaeton, which according to the original copy "is at home in either exclusive settings or open country." Here we see the Special Six in the former, right in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is just about to celebrate its 100th birthday. And the gentleman on the horse? Why, it's none other than Charles Brabin, noted film director and husband of Theda Bara.

Here's a fine Studebaker paused in front of the palatial Los Feliz mansion built by William Mead, president of the Municipal Housing Commission and subdivider of the Griffith Ranch holdings into the beautiful Hillhurst Park subdivision. By the time this photo was taken, the eight acre estate had passed to David Hamburger of department store fame. Designed by Hudson & Munsell in 1912 for the Mead's, the estate, although shorn of some of some of its acreage, still exists at 4533 Cockerham Drive and was recently for sale for just under $5 million.

Why here's a Studebaker Special Six duplex-phaeton paying a social call on the great cathedral of Notre Dame, or at least the Hollywood version, built on the Universal City Studios lot for Lon Chaney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). The Special Six sells for $1,775, a lot of money in those days.

The Studebaker was no stranger to Hollywoodland and here's a Special Six Berline in front of the quaint Spanish bungalow of famed Hearst columnist Kenneth C. Beaton (K.C.B.) and his wife. Designed by local architect A.B. Crist in 1924, the house at 2716 Woodhaven Drive is still there. But the Studebaker probably isn't.

A Special Six with a pretty girl in the passenger seat in the drive of a pretty Spanish home. "No other type of automobile has made such a thorough impression this year as the 1925 Studebaker duplex-phaeton, in which the old 'buggy top' has been replaced by a steel roof with invisible roller curtains. It can be converted from an open to a closed car in thirty seconds."

Big car in the big trees with a big price tag - $2,875 for the Studebaker Big Six Coupe. About $37,500.00 in today's dollars.

A Studebaker Standard Five Passenger Duplex Phaeton drops in on The Thief of Bagdad set perhaps to see Doug or Mary. The mammoth set was built on the Pickford/Fairbanks Studios lot at 1041 Formosa Avenue, a lot currently threatened with demolition.

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6 Responses to Rotogravure Sunday – Studebaker Edition

  1. Did some google-maps digging and seems the woodhaven drive home has had its character and detail stripped from its facade. Unfortunately replaced with a mismatched awning, a hedge, and some trash cans. Sad, it was so pretty.

  2. srk1941 says:

    I love all these pictures! My father collected Studebakers when we were young, so I have a special regard for them… especially those designed by Raymond Loewy.

  3. The Beaton house appears to have full length drapes on the OUTSIDE of the windows. Hmm.
    That’s an interesting way to cope with our summer sun.

    • Steve says:

      It’s true! They did, which was apparently a fairly common practice on Spanish houses in the pre-air conditioner days. You still see wrought iron rods above outsuide windows on a lot of places, which today just look decorative, but they originally were meant for canvas drapes.

  4. Jaimie says:

    What is the source of that headquarters photo with the caption “A 1920’s view of Figueroa Street and Pico”? I believe that photo is the corner of 7th and Fig and was the Studabaker showroom, with the Studabaker headquarters shown on the left hand side of the Google earth photo on Pico and Fig.

    • Steve says:

      It’s from the Security Pacific Bank Collection @ the LAPL and is labeled “Pico Boulevard east from Figueroa Street.” That’s where Hoffman’s main headquarters from 1923 was: 1250 South Figueroa and that is what the picture is showing. However, there was a Paul G. Hoffman dealership near 7th & Fig too. It was located @ Wilshire & Figueroa and went down for the Statler about 1950, which has gone down now itself as well. I think that’s the one you’re referring too. They did look similar.

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