HISTORY


Gotfredson Truck Corporation:  Los Angeles Factory Branch
(1924 - 1930)
by
David Gotfredson

Benjamin Gotfredson was no newcomer to the automobile industry when he began assembling his first trucks in Walkerville, Canada. Gotfredson's American Auto Trimming Company was the largest auto painting and trimming firm in the world by 1918. The first Gotfredson trucks were assembled on a limited basis in 1920 for in-house use by American Auto Trimming. Eventually, sales expanded to outside firms and the general public. By 1922, Walkerville-built Gotfredson trucks were widely popular in Canada with factory branches operating in Walkerville, Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton. Magazine advertisements from this period also listed factory branches in London, England and Sydney, Australia. Sales were taking off in the United States as well. A second Gotfredson factory began production in Detroit and the push was on to expand across America. Gotfredson soon opened dealerships in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Los Angeles.


Photo of Los Angeles Branch published in Pacific Coast Architect magazine, April 1925


In March of 1924, plans were announced to construct a Gotfredson Truck Corporation factory branch at 1235 East 9th Street near downtown Los Angeles at a cost of $100,000. Gotfredson hired the oldest and most respected architectural firm in Southern California - Morgan, Walls and Clements -- to design the building on a piece of property measuring 235 feet by 175 feet.

Gotfredson planned to use the Los Angeles branch initially as a sales and service dealership and eventually develop it into an assembly plant for the West Coast. He hired 12-year California resident and experienced automobile manager G. O. Fries to run the L.A. operation. Benjamin Gotfredson flew to California in person to attend grand opening ceremonies of his Los Angeles factory branch on Friday, August 1, 1924.

The Los Angeles branch was hailed as a modern work of architecture. The American Institute of Architects, Southern California chapter awarded the building a first prize for "beauty and efficient arrangement" in the category of one-story commercial building erected in 1924. In fact, the branch was two stories in the front and one story in the back. Sales offices and a large showroom with picture glass windows occupied the front of the building. The rear accommodated parts and service departments. Commenting on the A. I. A. award to a Los Angeles Times reporter in 1925, Fries said "We knew we had one of the most beautiful buildings of its class in the city; but we had no idea that we would be the recipients of this special distinction." A good manager never misses an opportunity for some good press. "The building does credit to our product, the Gotfredson truck. And the truck, if I do say so, certainly reflects credit on the building; for it is sturdy, attractive in line, efficient in performance and exceptionally durable and economical," Fries said.


Photo of Los Angeles Branch published in The Architectural Forum, March 1927


Seven months after opening the Los Angeles dealership for the sale of new Gotfredson trucks, Fries announced in February of 1925 that the branch would begin selling used trucks as well. The dealership used a vacant lot east of the building to display the vehicles, which were refurbished by mechanics in the Gotfredson facility. "The work is done in the shops, but we have an outdoor display park, where truck operators can both inspect and test these units to their full satisfaction," said Fries. These used trucks apparently were acquired through trade-ins during sales of new Gotfredson trucks. "Gotfredson trucks have created their own demand in this territory, and in making sales we have acquired some good used equipment," Fries reported.


Artist's rendering of Gotfredson Truck Corporation, Los Angeles branch


The L.A. Times reported that Benjamin Gotfredson first visited Los Angeles in 1904, and made numerous winter visits to Southern California during the years leading up to the construction of the Los Angeles dealership. Gotfredson also reportedly purchased a home in the exclusive Wilshire district in 1924, where he expected to reside during frequent visits to the West Coast. If this purchase did in fact take place, this may have been the same home where Gotfredson's first wife Amelia Graner resided following the couple's divorce. At any rate, Benjamin Gotfredson did make plenty of trips to California during the six years the Los Angeles branch operated. Local newspapers ran stories documenting his visits. The following Los Angeles Times article from Sunday, March 22, 1925 included extended quotations:


FAMOUS TRUCK BUILDER HERE
Benjamin Gotfredson on Visit to Southland
Importance of Commercial Hauling Emphasized
Manufacturers Ready for 1925 Rush Season

     With the commercial world fully awake to the indispensability of the motor truck in every branch of service where efficiency is imperative, manufacturers are setting themselves to handle what bids fair to be the most spectacular year's business in the history of the commercial car division of the automotive industry.
     This is the message brought to Los Angeles yesterday by Benjamin Gotfredson, president of the Gotfredson Truck Corporation, which has its Pacific Coast branch in this city, with G. O. Fries in charge.
     "Eastern centers are coming out of winter quarters with a rush," said Gotfredson. "We were pretty well frozen up back there for a while, but we didn't stop preparation for 1925.
     "It is mighty good to be back in Southern California again. The more I visit here the more I commend you people out here for your good judgment in your selection of an ideal place to live and work and enjoy life as you forge ahead.
"But, naturally, we of the East have our enjoyable times, too, and cling to the places we have picked to live.
     "Even since my last visit here, however, I can notice remarkable changes, more fine buildings, still more fine boulevards, hundreds of new beautiful homes, more industry and commercial activity.
     "How can a good motor truck help but flourish in such surroundings? And you certainly need us out here just as much as we need you. The whole foundation of your commercial life out here depends upon the motor truck. Statistics show that. Without the motor truck today more than half of Los Angeles would be almost helpless in a week's time. Your entire food supply, your clothing and the very material that forms your homes, is brought to you by truck."


Gotfredson's regard for the people of Southern California was demonstrated in 1925 when the company provided a 4-ton Model 80 truck to carry Santa's "Snowland Float" on an 1100-mile holiday tour. The Los Angeles Times sponsored the event. Over the course of three weeks just before Christmas, the float - complete with reindeer and sleigh - visited hundreds of schools and cities in Los Angeles and the surrounding region. Santa brought good cheer to thousands of children during the tour, riding atop his sleigh supported by a Gotfredson truck.


"It's a long way from the North Pole to Los Angeles, both in distance and climate, and so when Santa came to the city a few weeks before Christmas in 1925 with Dancer and Prancer and a few of their cousins in the reindeer family, there had to be some sort of transportation for them.  For the reindeer to travel on their own over the city's hard pavements was out of the question. Gotfredson Truck came to the rescue with a 4 ton Model 80.  Here you see Santa and the reindeer on the truck being eagerly greeted by the school children."
(Los Angeles Times; January 24, 1926).


"The schedules of the appearances of the reindeer were published in advance, drawing thousands upon thousands of people, young and old, at the place where the deer were advertised to appear. Above all, then, there could be no breakdowns resulting in delays or cancellations with consequent disappointment to the crowds. Despite the great and varied demands made upon the truck, not once during the three weeks it carried the reindeer hither and thither was there a single delay or flaw in the entire program, due to truck trouble. In all, the Gotfredson carried Santa, his reindeer, and eight Eskimos about 1100 miles around Southern California, over paved roads and dirt roads, smooth roads and rough roads, up hill and down dale," the Times reported on January 24, 1926.

Gotfredson Trucks were custom built to suit individual needs. The oil industry was particularly enamored by the Gotfredson design. A March 1928 issue of Petroleum World magazine ran an advertisement for Gotfredson model trucks between one and ten tons, with special equipment available to suit oil field requirements. The advertisement included a picture of a Gotfredson truck bearing the logo of the Pennzoil Oil company branch based in Bakersfield, California 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Gotfredson Truck dealership published telephone listings in the city directory between the years 1925 and 1929. The final 1929 telephone listing was in highlighted in bold print and read: "Gotfredson Truck Corp., Manufacturers of Gotfredson Motor Trucks and Taxicabs." Listings for years 1925 and 1926 listed G. O. Fries as manager. The years 1927, 1928 and 1929 listed a manager by the name of G. L. Ellis.


"G. O. Fries, manager of Gotfredson Truck Corporation factory branch, pointing out the detail of the "worm shaft service brake" mounted at the rear of the propellor shaft, which is said to be an exclusive feature with the Gotfredson truck."  (Los Angeles Times; September 21, 1924).


Gotfredson's best production years were 1926 and 1927, but troubles began shortly thereafter. Gotfredson's acquisition of a huge bodybuilding factory just outside Detroit called the Wayne Body Corporation put a heavy financial burden on the company. It appears Gotfredson wanted to centralize motor truck manufacturing out of the Wayne Body facility, but sagging sales and the stock market crash of 1929 threw a wrench into his plans. Los Angeles and Cleveland branches were mortgaged to keep the company afloat. In 1929, the Canadian operation was sold to a group of Canadian investors, who kept the Gotfredson name but took over ownership and operation. The approaching depression would lead to plummeting truck sales nationwide and competition from larger automobile manufacturing firms became fierce.

Despite financial trouble, Benjamin Gotfredson was optimistic about the future of commercial truck sales in the late 1920s. "The year 1928 will show a record in the automobile industries," Gotfredson announced at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles in January of 1928. "There will not be any war on low-priced cars, as has been predicted. Henry Ford has enough orders today for his new product to run his factory to capacity for two years, and I doubt that the General Motors Corporation and Ford can turn out enough cars to meet the demand for their products. Bigger and better business is clearly indicated in the truck business, with plenty of room for all automobile manufacturers," Gotfredson concluded.

Gotfredson's Los Angeles operation would be out of business two years later. California's Franchise Tax Board forfeited the Gotfredson Truck corporation rights on June 6, 1930. By law, Franchise Tax Board forfeiture means the company was delinquent in paying California state taxes, although Gotfredson presumably made good on these debts in time. Gotfredson Truck survived the depression and continued to produce gasoline and diesel motor trucks out of Detroit until 1948 under the name Robert Gotfredson Truck Company (Benjamin Gotfredson's only child).

Gotfredson's Los Angeles building is still standing today near the intersection of 9th and Merchant streets in what has become a garment and produce district several miles east of downtown. The building housed the "Fantasy Cash & Carry" market for at least 10 years prior to being transformed into a Mexican restaurant sometime around 1996. The "Tacos El Poblano" restaurant has since closed down and the front portion of the building is vacant. A market called "Vidal Produce" occupies the rear, one-story section of the building. The interior, two-story space in the front of the building remains very much unchanged from its 1924 layout. A kitchen was added for operation of the restaurant; but interior architecture including windows, offices, and even a wooden staircase are still intact. The front arches of the building have been boarded up and covered with stucco. Ironwork that once decorated the upper portions of the arches has been removed.


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1999 Photos of former Gotfredson Truck Corp. building at 1235 E. 9th St. in Los Angeles


The Gotfredson Truck building stands today as a testament to Benjamin Gotfredson's success as a businessman, his dedication to the city of Los Angeles, and his support for the community. A Los Angeles Times report from 1926 conveyed the city's regard for the Gotfredson Truck Corporation and those who worked there: "The caliber of the Gotfredson people is indicated in the type of building they put up to house their factory branch here. One combining both beauty and utility."

~ Copyright 1999, David Gotfredson ~