The Lost History of the Oldsmobile Dealership on Army Street

An interesting bit of Bernal Heights history recently surfaced on the blog of Hemmings Motor News, a national website for serious automobile collectors.

As part of a regular feature on defunct car dealerships, Hemmings profiled the former Lesher-Muirhead Oldsmobile in San Francisco. Truth be told,  I didn’t recognize the site when I first saw the photograph, but Lesher-Muirhead was the original developer of the property on the corner of South Van Ness and Army (Cesar Chavez) that’s now home to McMillan Electrical Contractors and our new, artisinal AutoZone auto parts store.

Hemmings says:

As is the case with most old dealership images we’ve run across lately, this mid-1960s postcard of Lesher-Muirhead Oldsmobile in San Francisco comes to us from Alden Jewell. And like many other dealerships we’ve researched for the Lost Dealership Project, Lesher-Muirhead’s history isn’t as straightforward as one photo would lead us to believe.

At the time the photo was taken, we’re rather certain that Lesher-Muirhead was owned at least in part by Edgar J. Fleck, a German who fled his native land for the United States before World War II. We’ve yet to find out when he bought into the dealership, but according to his obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, by 1974 he held enough control over the dealership to move it away from its location at 1515 South Van Ness Boulevard and into a new facility at 780 Serramonte Boulevard in Colma, south of San Francisco. It was there that the Oldsmobile dealership remained (at some point prior to 1980 renamed Serramonte Oldsmobile) until it was dissolved in 1993 by its then-owner, Tom Price, who appears to still own the Oldsmobile dealership’s successor, Stewart Chevrolet Cadillac. […]

Interestingly, property valuation references for 1515 South Van Ness, the location in the photo, show that the building was erected in 1948. That building still stands today.

Fun! Judging from the vintage of the cars in the (obviously heavily retouched) postcard, it would appear that the photo was taken roughly around 1965. And obviously, the building that now houses the AutoZone was erected in the former used car display lot on the corner sometime after the dealership closed in 1974.

Here’s a (somewhat dated) Google StreetView image of the site, for your then-and-now edification:

And here’s a closeup of the former dealership building:

13 thoughts on “The Lost History of the Oldsmobile Dealership on Army Street

  1. That’s awesome! I can imagine salesmen in brightly colored checked blazers wandering over from the dealership to the newly opened Palace Family Steak House for lunch and a beer (or three). The must have been so disappointed to have to move to colma, with only the dead for company.

  2. I have driven by that building hundreds of times and wondered what it was originally. McMillan’s dark tinted glass is not very appealing, and a bit like someone turning their back on the neighborhood.

    • You should have seen the windows before I took down the rod iron. I did that after they tore down the projects. Those windows are in people’s offices. We put up the tinting to give them some privacy. If you have a better idea how I can accomplish this in a more appealing way….I’m all ears.

  3. I am Pat McMillan of McMillan Electric.

    It is my understanding that the Building was origionaly a Desoto Dealership.

    The crazy thing for me is that I actualy accompanied my Mom on buying a ’72 Cutlass at Lesher Muirhead. I will never forget the Olds 442 Hust Performance indy pace car that sat were my accounting department is now.

  4. The Desoto dealer was up the block a bit, later it became Kerry’s coffe shop. On the corner of Mission & Army was a Dodge dealership until the 80’s?(now Walgreen’s) Perhaps the Desoto dealer moved and became a dodge dealer? The south west corner was a doggie dinner and the southeast corner was a Richfield gas and repair shop.

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  9. This building was J. W. Allen Co. DeSoto-Plymouth from 1948 (when the building was allegedly erected) to 1953, when Lesher-Muirhead Oldsmobile Lesher-Muirhead moved in 1972 or 1973 to 700 Serramonte Blvd. in Colma.

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