Berkeley Landmarks :: Howard Automobile Showroom


Howard Automobile Co. Showroom

2140 Durant Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Susan Cerny

Durant Avenue fa�ade (photo: BAHA archives)

12 August 2003

Howard Buick ad, Berkeley Gazette, 11 March 1935. The ad was placed to coincide with the Berkeley Auto Show at the Claremont Hotel.

Just what’s so special about 2140 Durant Avenue?

For starters, consider the building’s connection with two sporting legends, Seabiscuit and Reggie Jackson.

A delightful example of the Art Deco style, the unique structure was built for Charles Howard, owner of the famous racehorse Seabiscuit, whose name graces Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book and the movie based on the book.

The building’s story begins in San Francisco in 1903, when Charles Stewart Howard (1877–1950) arrived in the city and opened a bicycle repair shop where he also worked on automobiles. By 1905, the 28-year-old Howard had convinced William C. Durant, head of Buick Motor Co. and future founder of General Motors, to give him the franchise for San Francisco.

Ambitious, colorful and very successful, Howard (driving the Buick in the photo to the right) soon owned dealerships in eight western states. He was a rich man by the time he turned his attentions to building a grand Berkeley showroom in 1930.

Photos: BAHA archives

Two De Luxe Buick models were featured in the Berkeley Gazette of 11 March 1935 on the occasion of the Berkeley Auto Show at the Claremont Hotel.

The building later changed hands. In the 1960s, it served as the showroom of Jordan Buick, later Turner-Jordan Buick, and later still Marshall Turner Buick. At the time the building was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark (1983), it was occupied by Maggini Chevrolet.

Reggie Jackson, “Mister October” to baseball fans, entered the picture in the late 1980s, when he operated a Chevrolet dealership at this address.

The structure was designed by architect Frederick Reimers (1889–1961) and epitomizes the impressive showrooms built for the newly affluent and glamorous automobile industry.

The one-story, reinforced-concrete garage and showroom building is remarkable for its Art Deco style fa�ade, featuring large display windows separated by tall, cast-concrete pylons, tinted light brown. Each pylon is composed of three vertical geometric ribs which rise above the cornice and end in a three-part scroll design. Between pylons, the walls are infilled with a brick and concrete zig-zag belt-course pattern. Transoms above the showcase windows are divided into narrow vertical panes by metal mullions which have a scroll design on the bottom.

Photo: BAHA archives

For many years the once-dignified Howard Automobile Company building languished, largely unused and slowly deteriorating. Over the years several plans were floated for the large site at Durant and Fulton streets, but none included restoration of the building. Eventually a developer did come forth who carefully rehabilitated and restored the building with special attention to its Art Deco details, winning a Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association award for the effort.

Fulton Street fa�ade today (photo: Joseph Stubbs)

The completed restoration not only preserves an excellent example of an early twentieth century automobile showroom in the Art Deco style, but it also perpetuates, in a tangible form, the rags-to-riches story of Charles Howard and his famous horse Seabiscuit. From a different perspective, it contributes to environmentally responsible building practices, also known as “green architecture,” by retaining and reusing the materials used in the building’s initial construction.

The text of this article was originally published in the Berkeley Daily Planet.
Design and captions by Daniella Thompson.


The Howard Automobile Co. Showroom was designated a City of Berkeley Landmark on 17 October 1983. It is listed in the California State Historic Resources Inventory. The building is now owned by the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), which adapted the space to include teaching facilities, offices, a bookstore, and a two-story residential addition above the Fulton Street garage wing.

Further reading: Nonprofit Critical Mass by Becky O’Malley (Berkeley Daily Planet, 11 Nov 2003)



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