UPDATED – SEE BLUE PRINT BELOW
When the Golden Gate Bridge opened between San Francisco and Marin County, California on 27 May 1937, the very first car across the bridge was a 1937 Packard, seen here behind the police motorcycle.
The now iconic and world-famous Golden Gate Bridge between San Francisco and Marin County, California opened on 27 May 1937. The very first car across the bridge was a 1937 Packard owned by Helen Putnam who was then living in Petaluma, California.
Helen Putnam’s 1937 Packard was the very first car across the Golden Gate Bridge on opening day, 27 May, 1937.
The Golden Gate Bridge District acquired the car in the 1980s and gave it a complete restoration. Naturally, the car figured in the 50th Anniversary celebration of the bridge opening. For this event, the bridge was closed to vehicular traffic and thousands of people walked across the bridge – but they were led by this ’37 Packard 3 passenger coupe.
The above photo from 1987 shows the Packard being prepped to lead walkers (below) across the bridge for its 50th Anniversary.
On the bridge’s 75th Anniversary in 2012, the Packard was driven across the bridge into San Francisco and to Crissy Field where a celebratory event took place. Steve Miller, Director of Bus Maintenance for the Bridge District (which operates busses in Marin and southern Sonoma country) is in charge of maintaining the Packard. It was Miller who drove the Packard across the bridge for the 75th Anniversary event at Crissy Field. He said, “I drove it myself to Crissy Field. It was five a.m. when I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and there was no one else on the bridge but me and the car. It gave me goosebumps, thinking about all that history.”
When the Bridge converted 100% to electronic toll taking, the Packard, driven by then-Bridge District President Dick Grosboll, accompanied by Board member James Eddie, handed over the last cash ever taken at a Golden Gate Bridge toll booth.
The Packard figured in this weekend’s celebratory events marking the Bridge’s 80 years.
Originally delivered in Bakersfield, owner Helen Putnam’s Packard had moved with her to Petaluma and she, driving her Packard, was the first across the Golden Gate Bridge when it opened on 27 May 1937. The 1088 on the date plate indicates that this is a six cylinder business coupe.
Packard had its best year ever in 1937, delivering 109,000 vehicles. This was the year that Packard further eroded its well-earned image as being the luxury car king by introducing the Six, a step below the eight cylinder-powered 120. The Six was well-received by the public, representing 53% of Packard’s record volume in 1937. The Twelve, at the top of the line, had its best year – but only 1,300 were made. In its quest for volume, Packard sowed the seeds of its own destruction by emphasizing the lower-priced cars over its luxury cars. No one will argue that Packard needed a volume line to pay the plant overhead, but the mistake that led to the grand marque’s demise was not making enough distinction between the lower-priced volume line and their luxury cars – and also by failing to continue to court the luxury market buyer.
Thus students of Packard history will note the irony wrapped in the fact that the first car across the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 was a Packard, but it was a lowly 3 passenger “Junior” Six cylinder business coupe – not a 120 Eight, not a “Senior” Super Eight nor a Packard Twelve. Packard’s arch-nemesis, Cadillac, never would have built a business coupe, but Cadillac was supported by GM’s other brands, whereas Packard had only itself to look to for a volume car to support the luxury car line at a time when it was increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for luxury makes to stand on their own.
A view of the Golden Gate Bridge taken in Albany, CA, with an outbound container ship passing under the bridge, going from the Port of Oakland back to Asia. The sun set on Packard, but the Golden Gate has reached its 80th milestone.
“Bud J.” who is the “unofficial” photographer for the NorCal Region of The Packard Club sends the photo below of Helen Putnam’s Packard paying the last cash toll taken on the Golden Gate Bridge. He doesn’t say who took the photo. but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the photographer!
He also kindly corrected me about what I replied to Dave Brownell (in the comments below) about the location of the Earle C. Anthony Packard dealership in Oakland, California.
There had been a Packard dealership on Broadway in Oakland. That building has been converted into a luxury condominium project, named appropriately enough, The Packard Lofts. I had lived in the Bay Area for some 40 years and I knew that the Broadway site had once housed a Packard dealership. I also knew that Earle C. Anthony was the California distributor for Packard and had operated Packard dealerships up and down the state. I mistakenly put two and two together and assumed that the site on Broadway for the Packard dealership had been the Earle C. Anthony location. Dave Brownell was quite right that the ECA Packard dealership had been by Lake Merritt in Oakland. What I didn’t know was that the building, designed by the esteemed Bernard Maybeck, had been torn down before I arrived in the Bay Area in 1977. So I never knew that building. It was another 20 years after arriving in the Bay Area that I became more than passingly familiar with Oakland. Until “Bud J.” wrote me yesterday, all this time later, I was still unaware that the Maybeck-designed building had existed. The site is now home to the Roman Catholic cathedral for the Oakland Diocese, Christ The Light.
Above – Architect Bernard Maybeck’s sketch of the Earle C. Anthony Packard dealership in Oakland on Harrison Street across from Lake Merritt. Note how the service department is built into the slope of the site. Below: The ECA building in Oakland as built, a splendid venue from which to sell Packards!
For reasons I have yet to learn, Earle C. Anthony gave up the Lake Merritt site for his Oakland Packard dealership in 1939 – well before Packard began its death spiral. The Packard dealership on Broadway had been there since 1913, before Anthony became the California distributor for Packard and before Anthony built his Maybeck-designed Lake Merritt location.
Above and below: Christ the Light, the cathedral for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, is now on the site where the Bernard Maybeck-designed Earle C. Anthony Packard dealership was once located.
Interestingly, a former ECA Packard dealership in Los Angeles, located at 1000 S. Hope (at Olympic), has been converted into a luxury condominium project, also named as in Oakland, The Packard Lofts.
Constructed in 1913 is this building at 2355 Broadway (at 24th Street), Oakland, CA. Now home to The Packard Lofts, I had mistakenly assumed that this building had been the Earle C. Anthony Packard dealership in Oakland.
Maybeck also designed the ECA Packard dealership building on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. Fortunately, that building still stands, relatively intact as Maybeck designed it. It currently is home to the San Francisco Jaguar and Land Rover dealer.
Still retaining much of its Bernard Maybeck-designed splendor, this building on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco was once home to the Earle C. Anthony Packard dealership. It is now a Jaguar/Land Rover dealership.