Then and Now: 90 Years of Auto Biz at the Former Mission Chevrolet Dealership


Recently, Bernalwood noticed a big For Sale/Lease sign on the facade of our locavore auto partsmonger, the stylish O’Reilly store on Mission at Precita.

More changes, afoot?  Perhaps. Eventually. Inevitably. Because change is the only constant.

Come what may, the thing to remember about this particular building is that it was originally constructed in the late 1920’s as the showroom for Mission Chevrolet, an automobile dealership established during the early years of the motorcar revolution, at a time when this corner of Bernal Heights was making a dramatic transition from equine industries to internal combustion.

Here’s the location of today’s O’Reilly store, as seen in 1927 on Mission Street looking north at Precita:


Mission Chevrolet was still under construction in left-center of the image, so let’s zoom and enhance to take a closer look at the facade. The Chevrolet bow tie sign is clearly visible, just to the right of the Delicatessen Grill (which is now home to Virgil’s):


It’s nifty to see the front of the old Chevy dealership. But the back side of the building was way cooler.

The front door to the Mission Chevrolet showroom was on Mission Street, but the Service entrance was on Valencia, just south of Army/Cesar Chavez. This contemporary aerial photograph from the Bernalwood Intelligence Agency makes the building’s configuration clear to see:


Now, here’s what Mission Chevrolet’s Valencia facade looked like in the late 1920s, courtesy of a photo from the Bernal History Project:


Again, let’s zoom and enhance:


First. OMG! Look at Bernal Hill in the background. So naked and soooo cuuuuute! No Sutrito Tower. No trees. No party hat!

In the 1920s photo of the Valencia side, some of the architectural details are a little hard to distinguish. But they’re easy to visualize… because they’re still there today! Here’s the same spot, in 2014:


The flagpole remains on the far right side of the building, as well as the Spanish-style roof, and the arches from the original entrances. But the coolest detail is the bas–relief roundel right above the arches. The reliefs are still there, and if you look closely, you can still see a Chevrolet from the late 1920s embedded in the facade:


It’s a fun element, because it’s a representation of a late 1920s Chevrolet that’s baked into the building facade, rather like a bug in amber.

Picture it: Here’s what you’d get for your hard-earned Bernal dollars if you wandered down to Mission Chevrolet in 1928.

1928 Chevrolet Ad


16 thoughts on “Then and Now: 90 Years of Auto Biz at the Former Mission Chevrolet Dealership

  1. Thanks so much for this. Great sleuthing! I think that pic must be from 1930 because the road around bernal heights park was built in 1929 as I remember and the road is there in the pic.

    • I think you’re right… I just had the same epiphany as I was looking at the photo again. The cut from Bernal Heights Blvd is clear to see in the old pic.

    • Actually, I think the biggest thing about how it looked then (c. 1930) is that it still looks mostly the same today! Everything we see now was brand-new then, so yes, it definitely looked better. But when you do the then/now, it’s actually amazing how much of the the original architecture remains.

      • Totally, love how similar it is (too bad the building where Walgreens now sits couldn’t be saved). BUT, if you back up Mission to the south another block or two, you’ll see some seriously unfortunate changes since then, namely the Safeway and the Big Lots building.

  2. Oh no. I hope that someone isn’t going to buy the building, raze it, and build condos there, so the new neighbors will be complaining about El Rio and Roccapulco making too much noise for a residential area.

  3. That building has a massive underground garage below the parking lot. There’s a ramp that connects the two floors so cars could be moved back and forth. If you recycle your used motor oil, sometimes they’ll let you down there.

  4. Oh!!! What memories your article brings back. When we moved to Bernal Heights in 1955, Stewart Chevorlet was on Mission & Valencia. Many of your readers might remember Sears&Roebuck on Mission & Army. Thanks so much for the article

    • Laura, I have wonderful memories of Bernal past, and not so past (dare I give up details and show my age?) Very happy I was able to raise my children, now 17 and 20, in my childhood neighborhood. It’s been a great experience for them, and for me. I do remember going to the Sears on Mission as a child! I also remember the bowling alley where Big Lots and the apartments/condos(?) currently are, the Doggie Diner, and also Kerry’s. Those places were so delightful and fun for a little girl. I’m sure if I really sit down and put my memory to work, I can recall many more great things! It was fun seeing what O’Reilly used to be – it also perhaps explains the big parking garage they have! I guess that was part of the showroom? I only recall it being a Kragen Auto Parts.

  5. Oh I love this…I think a field trip-on foot- is called for. I really appreciate entries like this- they make me feel even more deeply at home in my neighborhood. Thanks!

    • A bit of checking the interwebs turned up this from:
      ” Stewart Chevrolet Co was originally located in downtown San Francisco at 3146 Mission Street near Army Street. ”

      Never knew that is was a Chevy dealer. I do recall it being a Grand Auto parts store in the 70s and 80s. As noted on this blog in the past.Army st was a sort of an Auto row. K&C dodge @ Mission and army, now a Walgreen store, The site that was Kerry’s was a De Soto, then @ south van-ness was an Oldsmobile (Lester Mullhead ?) Then there was a Chevy dealer in the early 60s @ army and Potrero, (Ben Alexander Ford?)

  6. Pingback: Motorcycle Rental Chain Store on Mission Will Require Formula Retail Exemption | Bernalwood

Comments are closed.