by Nancy Christofferson
WALSENBURG- On March 13, 1925, when the Walsenburg Auto Dealers Association was organized, there were 12 agencies selling new cars. They were Young’s Dodge and Maxwell, Lenzini’s with Hudson and Essex models, Sears and Sears’s Ford and Pontiac, F.H. Unfug Chevrolet, Graves and Klein’s Buick, Central Garage with Cornwall, Page, Jewett and Hupmobile lines, Boyle Brothers’ Whippets, Mike Reviglio with Studebakers, Spriestersbach Motor Company selling Rickenbackers, Dick-Gardner with Oldsmobiles, Furphy’s Star and Durant agency and the Motor Hub with DeSotos. A firm owned by Elliott and Bell, selling…
Columbia cars, already had gone out of business by 1925.
Memories are divided as to who owned the first car in Walsenburg. It was either young Fred Walsen or Dr. W.S. Chapman. Fred Sporleder was said to have bought the second, but maybe it was the third. In La Veta, Dr. S. Julian Lamme gets the credit for being the first car owner. By the bye, La Veta did not need a dealer’s association, having just Roush’s Ford doing business during the 1920s.
A dozen or more cars were counted on Walsenburg streets in 1910 – so many of the owners decided to form an auto club. J.B. Johnson, a jeweler, was elected president, Fred O. Roof, banker, vice president, Fred C. Sporleder, secretary and James B. Dick became treasurer. By 1915 there were an estimated 60 cars in the county. Just seven years later, Huerfano ranked 19th of the 63 Colorado counties in number of autos. A total of $10,748.62 was paid in license fees that year, for 1,700 autos and 86 trucks.
At the time of the association’s birth in 1925, there were 2,847 cars in Huerfano County.
With so many buyers and dealerships around, competition must have been intense. As time passed, some of these dealers went out of business and at the same time, car manufacturers too dropped certain lines or went under altogether. In 1945, the association had dissolved, so a new one was formed. Officers were the old timers, A.S. Lenzini, president, Tom S. Young, vice president, F.H. Unfug, secretary and E.L. Sears, treasurer.
The new association had seven members, Lenzinis, Unfugs, Sears, Youngs, Motor Hub, plus newcomers Mike Giordano (Frazer) and William J. Neeman (Pontiac and Cadillac). A few years after the association was started, longtime dealer F.H. Unfug sold out to George Allison and George Thurston. Unfug had gone into the car business in 1920 at 117 W. 6th Street. Allison-Thurston Chevrolet, in the same location, went out of business in 1959 and the old building was razed in 1980 for a parking lot for Black and White Grocery and Market.
Giordano Motor Company was located at 116 E. 4th Street. Sears and Sears was at the corner of East 4th and Main, Santi Motors was (eventually) at 302-310 Main and Neemans at 320 Main, so the corner of Main and 4th was “Auto Central”, you might say.
The Santis came to dominate the car scene, with Lenzinis. Back in 1925, Sears and Sears, with 24 employees, was the largest dealership in town. But the Santi and Lenzini families also operated oil companies and service stations along with their sales rooms and repair garages. Lenzinis had suffered a major setback in 1939 when their showroom and garage at the far end of West 7th Street burned, but built back bigger and better. Oscar Santi started his oil company in 1930 and built his first service station at 724 W.7th. He built his service station on Main in 1940 and soon was in the car business. Santi Oil and Santi Motor companies combined in 1951. In May 1951 the new 15,000 square foot showroom and sales office opened with 25 employees. By this time Oscar had turned the business over to his two sons and a nephew. The company operated three stations in Walsenburg, a bulk plant and station in La Veta, and a service station in Westcliffe. When I-25 was built, a station was built at the interchange. Santi got the Ford-Mercury-Lincoln franchise in 1945, which was sold in the 1980s. The oil company was sold to Phillips “66”.
With so many models and choices, the dealers used to put on auto shows each spring. Quite often, they were held at Santi’s, but Sears and Sears and Lenzinis had their turns, too. The 1927 Auto Show drew an estimated 5,000 people, and 20 cars were sold. 1929’s show in Sears’ Garage showed 24 models from 12 dealers and was visited by an estimated 7,500. The next year 15 cars were sold to buyers among the 5,000 guests. In 1934 the show featured nine dealers. These shows typically included entertainment, such as the accordion artist and trick cyclist in 1930 and in 1938 a “Jellopie” parade and bonfire of unsafe vehicles.
The Auto Show went by the wayside during World War II, but in 1952 was resurrected. A new wrinkle was added when a contest began to have a queen, “Miss Walsenburg.” Angie Tessitore won this honor, and appeared in the parade that opened the show. In 1953 the Huerfano County High School band led the parade, and the queen, Rose Marie Ramirez, and her attendants reigned over the two-day show. About 5,000 attended.
The Auto Show and queen contest fared poorly in later years. By the 1970s only the Lenzini, Santi and Barbacovi Motor Companies were still in business, and feminists were taking umbrage at young ladies vying for queen titles in cheesecake situations.
What a comedown it was when in 1971 the auto show was held in the drive-up’s parking lot of First National Bank in Walsenburg, and appliances were on display as well, just to attract a few extra buyers.
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