A look at Brooklyn, then and now.
Cars were pretty cool looking in 1933. Think Chicago mobster cars, Bonnie and Clyde, sedans with serious running boards, headlamps that were really lamps, tires with spokes and the spare attached to the side of the car; those kinds of cars, some of which were Chevrolets. They remain some of American’s best loved and most classic cars.
Chevrolet was founded way back in 1911 by Louis Chevrolet and William C. Durant as direct competition to General Motors. Durant had founded and run General Motors in 1908, but had been kicked off the board of his own corporation two years later. He used his new Chevrolet Motor Car Company to get back on the board, something he accomplished by making the Chevrolet so popular that he was able to buy enough GM stock to put himself back in charge in 1916. He brought Chevrolet with him, and it was soon GM’s most profitable car line.
Everyone liked Chevrolet, it was one of the “people’s cars” along with Ford and later, the Chrysler spin-off, Plymouth. They were called the “low price three.” In 1933, Chevrolet introduced the Standard Six, which was the cheapest six-cylinder car on the market. That same year, Benson Chevrolet opened up for business on 86th Street in Bensonhurst.
As we all know, it’s long been possible to live in New York City without a car. But southern Brooklyn has never been well served by subways, trolleys didn’t always go where you needed to go, and were slow and often crowded. Robert Moses was in the process of ringing the city with new highways, and the American love affair with the automobile was as great in Bensonhurst as anywhere. Benson Chevrolet was set to do well.
And it did. They opened in 1933 at 1810 86th Street, and by 1936 had moved to a larger facility at 1818 86th Street. This was Bensonhurst’s shopping district, near the elevated train, and a perfect place for a car dealership, with lots of foot traffic. The two story building had 4,000 square feet on the ground floor for Benson, with the Benson Music School and the Bensonhurst Good Government League sharing the second floor. They all rented at the same time, so there may have been a connection between all three organizations.
By the 1940s, Benson Chevrolet had moved to 8314 18th Avenue, near the New Utrecht Reformed Church. J. R. Neidorf was president of the company then, and they stayed here for at least a decade, opening another facility at 18th and New Utrecht Avenues for their new Chevrolet truck lines and their “original owner pedigreed used cars.” The new lot was whopping 9,500 square feet, and would be manned every day except Sundays, by a staff of seven salesmen.
The company moved one last time, this time to the building showed in the advertising postcard above. This is on the corner of 86th Street and 16th Avenue, 1553-1575 86th Street. The iconic 1950s showroom was built in 1953. It is typical of automobile showrooms of that time, with sleek rounded surfaces, and lots of glass. The building style evokes travel; it is reminiscent of the airplane terminals of the day, or the prow of an ocean liner.
The building had a large showroom where the latest models of Chevrolets could be displayed, with an accessories shop in the rear selling all kinds of cool gadgets to customize your ride. There was also a large service bay and a used car lot. Neon signs advertised the goods inside, with “Benson” prominently curving around the front of the building.
In 2014, the building is still here today, and is pretty much intact. It’s been painted white, and has lost its neon signage, that replaced by more modern logos, but the windows have remained the same, and the building looks great. Benson Chevrolet lasted through the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and much of the 1980s. In 1985, it changed its name to BK Chevrolet, after several owners over the decades. Today it’s called the 86th Street Chevrolet. They also sell Saabs.
It’s amazing that this establishment has remained with Chevrolet for eighty-one years, and whatever the name, is still going strong. The site was purchased in 2009 for eight million dollars. If Brooklyn keeps developing the way it is now, this large site will be worth more developed than as a car dealership, and $8 million will be an investment well made. I hope for the sake of this iconic 1950s treasure, that that day is long coming. Let’s keep some of the old stuff for as long as possible. GMAP