BY SUZANNE SPELLEN
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 America’s best loved and most classic cars.
Chevrolet was founded 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, 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, and 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. It 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 dealership. 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.
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 it stayed there for at least a decade, opening another facility at 18th and New Utrecht Avenues for the new Chevrolet truck lines and its “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 in 1953 to the iconic showroom at 1553 86th Street, at the corner of 86th Street and 16th Avenue. It was typical of automobile showrooms of that time, with sleek rounded surfaces, and lots of glass. The building style evoked travel; it was 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 cars 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. Benson Chevrolet lasted until 1985, when it changed its name to BK Chevrolet. The building survived pretty much intact until it was demolished in 2015.
This story was previously published in Brownstoner.