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January 5, 2013

Thousands showed for 1928 new car debut in Oneonta

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The Daily Star

---- — Other than some football and news, I didn’t view a lot of television over the holidays. Yet I saw more than enough car commercials to wave a white flag, after getting deluged with year-end clearances and deals galore. 

Whether on television or radio, competing automobile companies had commercials airing one right after another, which back in my radio broadcasting years was strictly forbidden. Times change, I suppose.

How brisk the actual sales were and how much excitement there was at the many car dealerships will soon be learned, but I am most doubtful it reached the level of enthusiasm generated in January 1928, when the new models of cars were unveiled at local dealerships.

I honestly couldn’t tell you what time of year a new line of automobile or truck is introduced these days. For Oneontans in 1928, it was just after New Year’s Day.

The Oneonta Star of Monday, Jan. 2, reported, “While special arrangements have been made throughout the country for the first showing of the new Chevrolet car today, it is certain that nowhere are the plans any more elaborate than in Oneonta. Becker & Lent, Inc., local dealers, have rushed to completion their fine building at 18 Market street and will hold the display of the new car in conjunction with the formal opening of the new home of the concern.”

This building stood until 1992, when a major fire destroyed it and a neighboring building. The fire began on Saturday, Feb. 29, around 5:30 a.m. at what was then the home of The Dark Horse Saloon.

The excitement of the 1928 opening day began at 2:30 p.m., as Mayor Bertus C. Lauren turned the key to open the building, after a short talk. By the end of the day, an estimated 3,000 had attended the festivities that went on well into the evening.

“McNeely’s Melodians played yesterday,” according to Tuesday’s Star, “and will continue today and tomorrow. Their music proved thoroughly enjoyable as did the vaudeville acts presented in the afternoon and evening. During the afternoon two soloists were heard in popular numbers and in the evening there were about 600 present for an entertainment that started about 8 o’clock and continued for more than an hour.” A specially constructed stage was placed in the service department of the new building, but seats were provided for only 400.

“Most Oneontans were surprised at their first glimpse of the new home of Becker & Lent. The showroom is unusually attractive, finished in pleasing colors and well lighted. There is space for the showing of several models. A light vari-colored tile floor was particularly remarked upon.”

The new Chevrolet motto for 1928 was “Bigger and Better,” succeeding the “Most Beautiful Chevrolet.” A newspaper advertisement from Jan. 2 described the many features of the new models. Prices ranged from $495 for “The Roadster,” to $715 for “The Imperial Landau.” Light delivery and utility trucks ranged from $375 to $495.

Not to be ignored, the Oneonta Sales Co., Oneonta’s Ford dealership since 1912 and directly across the street, placed a congenial advertisement on Jan. 3.

“Greetings to Becker & Lent Inc.,” the ad began. “We welcome you to Market street and congratulate you on your beautiful new and modern home.

“We trust your stay on this street and as members of the business fraternity of Oneonta will be long and prosperous.

“We bespeak for your new models in cars the same enthusiastic reception with which the new Model A Ford was greeted.”

Becker & Lent stayed on Market Street for a few years, but Oneonta Sales far surpassed its longevity. Oneonta Sales remained at the corner of Market Street and Chestnut Street Extension until Sidney Levine retired and closed the business in 1992.

On Monday: “Discovering” a new route to Cooperstown in 1988.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.