• Patrick L. Kennedy

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There are 61 comments on A Trip Down Automobile Row

  1. I always wondered what CFA was, with those Stairways and columns in one of the 1st floor classrooms (if you’ve ever had classes in that room, you KNOW what I’m talking about!)

  2. I’ve known alot about this interesting part of Comm ave, but this article showed me some facts I never knew about. Such as the Shell sign.. Plus the videos are great. Kudos.

  3. Excellent story – I had heard that Commonwealth Ave. was the original “Automobile Mile” – this piece does an outstanding job mixing history and the past with today. I enjoyed this very much – thank you!

  4. When I attended BU in the first half of the 1980s there was an AMC dealership on the south side of Comm. Ave. roughly aligned with the BU Central T stop, certainly a less glamorous building than some of these others, but still I’m somewhat surprised it wasn’t mentioned in this article. Otherwise I enjoyed this a lot, thanks.

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback. I’m glad you liked the story.

      For more info about the Citgo sign, check out the feature on BU Today by Patrick Kennedy and Caleb Daniloff: http://www.bu.edu/today/2009/icons-among-us-the-citgo-sign/

      “When built in 1965, the Citgo sign contained more than five miles of neon tubes — 5,878 glass tubes to be exact — lit by 250 high-voltage transformers. The giant advertisement has survived five hurricanes.”

  5. What a great article about the history and changes over the years of the auto business in Boston. I’ve never been there but I’m putting it on my list.

  6. Really well done! This article is a real stroll down memory (Commonwealth Ave.) lane. I went to school at COM in the 70’s. Worked for a time at Clark and White Lincoln Mercury and spent a lot of take home pay at Ellis The Rim Man.
    Thanks for a meticulously researched and entertaining story!

  7. Also to point out, a lot of these old car dealerships and show rooms are now bike shops! Landry’s, Ski Market, International Bikes… funny how times change, good to remember where we came from so we recognize where we’re going. Thanks for the article!

    And Fuller, the great bicycle-racer-turned-automobile-entrepreneur-turned-governor, rose to political fame on his wealth. He was the governor who refused to grant clemency to Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927.

  8. Wonderful and well done piece. This is the type of work that sets the BU Today apart! This provides the BU community with a greater context of the campus history. Kudos to the individuals throughout the University’s history who decided to preserve these architectural gems. I only wish CFA still had those gorgeous windows! And, the photos of the Ellis the Rim Man signs made me smile!

  9. Great piece – it’s chockfull of details and it makes me want to walk the whole route to see it for myself. Loved that chopper shot with the little flags, and the fade from the old photos to the exact locations today. Long live Ellis the Rim Man!

  10. Love this! Wonderful article that stirred memories. I bought my first car from a Chrysler dealership on Comm Ave — a baby blue, 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger. Loved that car. Some of the buildings I knew about, but I had no idea on others. Great story.

  11. Yes great piece and fond memories! I’ve worked at BU for 25 years but grew up in Newton. I remember gazing in awe at beautiful new cars – especially the Cadillacs – inside of buildings (which seemed so strange then) as Dad drove all of us kids to Fenway for a game. I’ll be forwarding to everyone in my family. Thanks!

  12. What a great piece and video about automobile row. I remember as a kid back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s riding down Comm Ave with my folks, and taking note of all the dealerships. My father sold cars all his life (in Brockton, Plymouth & on the Cape) but it was almost as if Automobile Row was the “major league” of car sales.

    Great Job!

  13. Great article! I have owned and operated a business on the old Auto-mile section of Commonwealth Avenue for nearly 20 years and never knew about this rich history. I was aware, of course, that Packard Corner had been the center of what used to be a lot of Auto Dealerships but thought that “Packard” had referred to the ill-fated late 50s auto. I had no idea how extensive the auto industry had been on this section of Commonwealth Avenue. It makes perfect sense to me now why the so many of the buildings from the BU Bridge all the way to Harvard Ave look the way they do.

    My mother grew up in the Back Bay in the 30s and 40s in Boston and always loved Boston. She instilled in me a love for Boston and it brings me great satisfaction to own and operate a business on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston – how can you get any more “Boston” than that? I am a historian by education and by heart so I doubly enjoyed this article – it is about history and about Boston. I passed this story along to my mom who was thrilled to call and tell me about her memories of the Boston Auto Mile.

    I thought that the story was well done, interesting and informative. Thanks so much for the obvious quality work of the story and the accompanying video.

  14. From 1967-1969, I was a student at the Division of General Education, the first two years of the then College of Liberal Arts. It was housed in the CFA building with it’s great interiors. Walking from there to West Campus, and later from there to Bay State Road, I passed all those dealerships and their buildings. One of them had Farquhar(?) Motors on top, but I don’t remember the exact address, although I think it was across the street from the BU Bridge.
    Thanks for this article!

  15. Judging by the comments above, many have found this as fascinating as I do–and I’m not even interested in cars! Meticulous research, clever presentation. Great video.

  16. A meaningful stroll down Memory Lane like your trip through automobile row takes a very knowledgeable guide and you are IT! Fascinating what your research turned up plus those great pix, matching up the old/new sites. A sparkling presentation! Whoever said history has to be dull?

    -Louise Bonar, Founder/Board Member of the Brighton-Allston Historical Society

  17. Excellent piece. As a CFA alum, I knew a little about Comm Ave’s automobile history, specifically the 808 building, but I definitely was not aware how extensive the history actually was. Really great to see the photograph comparisons, and the video was fantastic. If I’m not mistaken, there is the original Cadillac insignia on the lobby floor of 808 centered on the back wall.

  18. What a fun presentation! There was still an AMC dealership right across from GSU/central campus when I was there in the Eighties. My father and aunt loved to tell the story about how, as children in the Forties, they decided to go see the new cars one day, and walked all the way from their home in Jamaica Plain down to Commonwealth Avenue, then walked back.

  19. Fantastic story, and a very well-produced, captivating video. I had no idea COM was a Nash dealer, or that Buick St. really was for Buicks! Makes me regard my time at BU as extra special.

    Cliff Atiyeh, COM ’07
    Boston Globe Auto Editor

  20. Awesome video and article! Definitely fun to watch, so it must have been a blast to produce. I really appreciated the side-by-side photographs and challenges to imagine/relive the past.

  21. Great piece! Van Ness Avenue was San Francisco’s auto row from 1910 to 1975 or so and 31 of the buildings survive in the Van Ness historical district. Most of them retained or were restored to the original forms and look like the “before” pictures of 640 and 855 Comm. Ave.

  22. A very nice trip down memory lane, my dad worked for the Fuller family for 52 years, retiring when they closed the dealership at 808 Commonwealth Ave. I had the pleasure of driving the ramps from the basement to the fith floor on occasion;
    Hope the memories remain by retaining the facades and other decorations and of course the shell sign;

  23. Fascinating story. I lived at 25 Lenox Street (a BU house) for 25 years, and the Fuller Building was my next door neighbor. When we first came to BU, there was a move afoot for Aer Lingus, the Irish airlines, to buy the Fuller building and turn it into a hotel. I thought this was a good idea, but the neighborhood was VERY up in arms against it and fought it. It was finally abandoned. I love the gourmet food evenings that Rebecca Alssid puts on there now. Have also been to many weddings, and other events. It is an icon in the neighborhood.

  24. Memories of Washington’s Birthday

    That’s what is was called in my day.

    I was employed by Motor Car of New England also known as Pontiac Village, 860 Commonwealth Ave, Boston from 1934 to 1971. Commonwealth Ave was full of dealerships and on designated day, if you attempted to walk up the avenue, the crowd was so big, you could not walk down. Dealerships were full of people and it was impossible to get close to the showroom. You could purchase a new Pontiac for $519.00. I worked six days a week from 8 am to 5:30 pm and got $8 dollars week… memories.

  25. Fantastic article/videos. Commonwealth Chevy also sold Austin Healeys,when Jerry Oste bought it and he also sold Avanti’s. Going up Brighton Av. there were a couple of Speed shops for the hot rod set. Way out on Comm. Av there was a Rolls Royce dealer. And for the sports car racers there was a group of garages behind Comm, near Harvard, called Gasoline Alley. Sunday afternoons, when we were kids, my friends and I would pedal over the Cottage Farm Bridge and go up and down the Ave and just dream and admire the cars in the windows. Great job. XXX

    1. My dad would be 99 yrs old now and he worked for Petter Fuller Cadillac and Jery Oste My dad was HARRY THE HAT from Lynn, Ma boy do I miss those days …Going to Peter Fuller house in concord ridding horses and Jerry Oste and his wife great friends with my mom Betty…..

  26. You left out Turner & McBeath Edsel at 1168 Commonwealth… but… I wouldn’t expect anyone to catch that one because they were only open for a little over a month before folding… I do have a bad photo of the building with Edsel and I’d love to find better photos of such. The dealer who also was part of Coombs & McBeath Ford William Humphrey Turner is still living and is 88.

  27. One other fun fact…Peter Fuller’s family collected Post-Impressionists; and he would go to the family home, select a couple of landscapes and order cars with color schemes to coordinate. Then, when the cars arrived, he would hang the paintings in the showroom behind the cars. What a display!
    Great article…

  28. This is the best article regarding Commonwealth Ave I’ve read. I’ve worked at three of the locations you mentioned and I felt like I was going home.

  29. Worked at Pontiac Village from 1967 till1971.Wrekin the office as a bookeeper.Great group of people to work with.The gas shortage of the early seventies really changed things on automobile Row.

  30. This is the best article regarding Commonwealth Ave I’ve read. I’ve worked at three of the locations you mentioned and I felt like I was going home.

  31. And to think that the beautiful BU campus buildings were created from old automobile showrooms! I especially liked how some of the features from the old buildings were retained. I had no idea when I was a COM graduate student and worked on Kenmore Square that it was once Automobile Row.

  32. My Bostonian father, who worked at International Harvester on North Beacon Street in Allston, told me that Arvan Fuller’s Massachusetts license-plate number was “1.” The governor’s was (is?) “S1.”

  33. My father ,Henry Clarke ,worked at Noyes Buick and Commonwealth Chevy. as a body shop foreman and painter, in the 1940′ s ,early 50′ s and died young age 42. Richard ( Dick ) May 23, 2020

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