San Francisco's Historic Auto Row

1000 Van Ness Ave, where the AMC is located, is formally called the Don Lee Building and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco.

It is the largest and one of the three most architecturally significant automobile showrooms on San Francisco's historic Auto Row-- the name for Van Ness in the first half of the twentieth century, when it was lined with automobile showrooms and dealerships.

Much of Van Ness was intentionally demolished during the 1906 earthquake and fire, to create a fire break. When the street was rebuilt, San Francisco was at the beginning of a car boom — in about a decade, the city went from having 25 cars total to having more than 25 car dealerships.

Within this increasingly competitive field, manufacturers quickly learned the marketing power of showrooms. They understood that the architecture of the showroom was just as important as its primary role: as a place to display, store, and repair automobiles. In an era in which smaller automobile manufacturers were being weeded out, larger manufacturers aimed to reinforce customer confidence by designing automobile dealerships that, like banks, conveyed a sense of stability and permanency.

In San Francisco, Don Lee was the first to commission such an elaborate showroom for his prominent corner lot on Van Ness Avenue. The completion of the Don Lee Building in 1921 led to increasing rivalries between local dealers, as each tried to outdo each other by commissioning prominent architectural firms to design increasingly elaborate showrooms.

By the 1930s, the street was filled with dealerships, repair shops and other auto-related businesses. But by the late 1970s, the economic climate had begun to change. More people were moving to the suburbs, and the auto dealers were following them to bigger - and cheaper - sites. Today, only a handful of auto dealers remain on Van Ness Avenue.

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