Structure Type: built works - industrial buildings - factories

Designers: [unspecified]

Dates: constructed 1915-1916

3 stories

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6905 Foothill Boulevard
Bancroft Business District, Oakland, CA 94605

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The Chevrolet Motor Company of California plant was located at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and 69th Avenue.

Overview

Frenetic automobile executive William Crapo Durant and his associates selected this site at the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and 69th Street in Oakland, CA, to build this automotive assembly plant, the Chevrolet Motor Company's first on the West Coast. Work began in 1915 and concluded the following year, with the production of the first Chevrolet Series 490 sedan commencing on 09/23/1916.

Building History

William C. Durant (1861-1947), a native of Boston, MA, migrated to Flint, MI, then a lumber town, in the 1880s, where he rapidly built the fortunes of the Durant-Dort Carriage Company, which by the 1890s had ascended to become the leading producer of horse-drawn carts and carriages in the US. At this time in Lower MI, a critical mass of engineers and mechanically-inclined tinkerers were experimenting with new horseless carriages. This area of MI had several advantages for automotive manufacturing. It already had an abundance of wood, glass and metal industries, good inter-city water and rail transit, an increasingly interconnected network of talented metal-workers and machine shops, as well as an emerging group of aggressive and persistent entrepreneurs that became fixated on perfecting horseless carriages. Durant was one of these determined executives. He purchased the Buick Motor Company in 1904, the first of several acquisitions that he formed into the General Motors Corporation (GM) in 1908. Durant was an innovator and his own worst enemy, able to organize and build a production company quickly through acquiring smaller, defunct firms. His process of growth, however, and the rate of his planning for expansion perioidically outstripped his company's capacity to remain profitable. He served as the President of GM between 1908 and 1910, before being ousted by creditors.

Durant then co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Company with Louis Chevrolet, a former race-car driver, in 1911. He prospered building Chevrolet, opening his first assembly plant at 1145 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit in 1911, and, by 1915-1916, he had conceived a Chevrolet manufacturing expansion strategy with geographically-distributed assembly plants to be initiated in North Tarrytown, NY, Saint Louis, MO, Fort Worth, TX, and Oakland, CA. (Durant took over an existing Locomobile/Maxwell plant in North Tarrytown and contracted with an existing Saint Louis manufacturer to produce Chevrolets there. The Fort Worth plant was, like the one in Oakland, built by Durant, but it lasted only five years, 1916 until 1920.) According to James M. Rubenstein, in The Changing U.S. Auto Industry: A Geographical Analysis, "Later in 1916, assembly operations started in Oakland, California. As was the case in St. Louis, the Oakland plant was built with the help of local capital. Norman de Vaux, for many years Durant's chief lieutenant on the Pacific Coast, headed the company, and Durant's son Clifford, a race driver, was also involved in the California company." (See James M. Rubenstein, The Changing U.S. Auto Industry: A Geographical Analysis, [London: Routledge, 1992], p. 79-82.) GM/Chevrolet used this plant to produce vehicles from 1916 until 1936.

In 1915-1916, W.C. Durant managed, with financial assistance from Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954) and his giant chemical company, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, to regain control of GM for four years, 1916-1920. For four years, Durant controlled production of this Oakland plant, turning out about 110 cars per day in 1919. (See "Made in California," Bulletin--Standard Oil Company of California, vols. 7-8, 1919, p. 91.) A brief but deep recession occurred between 1919-1921 in the US, as the country made an awkward transition from a war-time to peace-time economy, and GM again experienced foundering revenues. Faced with a momentary crisis, and weary of Durant's management methods, Pierre du Pont made the decision to force Durant out once again, ending his tenure as GM's President in 1920. (For the rampant extent of Durant's GM expansion in 1918-1919 alone, seeC.M. Burton, The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, [Detroit: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922], p. 595-596.)

In 1917, the administration team of this plant consisted of: Norman De Vaux (1876-1964), President of the Chevrolet Motor Company of California, R.C. Durant, Vice-President and Sales Manager, A.L. Warrington Comptroller, George R. Scott, Superintendent, Al G. Waddell, Advertising Manager. De Vaux rose rapidly within Chevrolet's CA operations, as he founded its first dealership in San Francisco in 1915. (See "Automobile Agencies Recently Established," The Automobile, vol. XXXII, no. 24, 06/17/1915, p. 1102.) De Vaux would remain loyal to Durant, and follow him to his next venture, the Durant Motors Company (DMC), which the latter began after being forced out as GM President in 1920. De Vaux was closely assisted by Billy Durant's son, Russell Clifford Durant (1890-1937), who would later become the President of the Durant Motors Company of California. At just the wrong moment economically, De Vaux even started his own automobile company, the De Vaux-Hall Motors Company of Grand Rapids, MI, and Oakland. In 1931-1932, he would utilize an idle DMC plant in Oakland, CA, (at the corner of East 14th Street and Stanley Avenue) to turn out his own six-cylinder De Vaux 6/75 luxury car. Following the demise of De Vaux-Hall Motors Company in 1932, the DMC plant lay idle for about four years. In 1936, De Vaux sold it to GM which closed its Foothill Boulevard and 69th Avenue facilty, and made cars and trucks there until the summer of 1963.

Building Notes

In form, the Oakland Chevrolet Motors Plant resembled other vertical automobile factories of the 1900s-1910s built in MI. These plants followed the design parameters laid out by Albert Kahn's Packard Motor Company Plant #10 in Detroit of 1905. It had a reinforced concrete frame expressed on the exterior with infill of brick. These early plants had floors stacked vertically, while later (post-World War I) auto manufacturing facilities tended to sprawl horizontally on one level for ease of interconnecting and reconfiguring production lines.

In 1909, William C. Durant and his General Motors Corporation (GM) acquired the Oakland Motor Car Company of Pontiac, MI, (later renamed "Pontiac" in 1931). Just after this acquisition, Durant established a price hierarchy among the various GM many brands, with Chevrolet being the lowest cost marque, above which stood Oakland, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac. The Oakland name association may have been significant personally to Durant, but Oakland vehicles were never produced in Oakland, CA.

In 1924, Chevrolet continued to produce cars at this plant. The Oakland, California, City Directory, 1924, listed A.P. Sloan as President of the Chevrolet Motor Company of California, with P.N. Coats, Vice-President and Sales Manager, M.L. Prensky, Treasurer, E.W. Ivey, Resident Comptroller, and W.C. Williams, Factory Superintendent and Manager. (See Oakland, California, City Directory, 1924, p. 516.) Alfred P. Sloan was the über-boss in Detroit, while Coats supervised Chevrolet of California operations. In its last year of Chevy production in 1935, K.M Chase was the Chevrolet Motors Corporation Regional Sales Manager, working with Abe Parker as Zone Sales Manager at the 6905 Foothill Boulevard plant. (See Oakland, California, City Directory, 1935, p. 208.)

PCAD id: 20877