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Automobile Row

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Early 20th century to present. Pennsylvania Ave., between Clayton and Union sts.
  • Automobile Row (Delaware Postcard Collection, University of Delaware Library, Newark, Del)

Car dealerships sprang up along the commuter thorough-fare from wealthy residential districts to downtown, with the name “Automobile Row” being applied as early as 1912, just five years after the first car was licensed in the state. By 1927, Delawareans owned 44,000 cars. Bill Moeckel designed Porter Showroom (c. 1938, now altered) in the new International Style. “There wasn't a modern building in Wilmington at the time that I arrived here in 1936,” he later recalled.

Another modernist dealership was Union Park Pontiac (1949, W. Ellis Preston), with a glass-and-porcelainized-steel front and soaring pylon. The last to survive intact was the red-and-yellow brick Art Deco Delaware Motor Sales (1938–1939, Massena and du Pont). This Cadillac dealership was owned by Eugene E. du Pont, who relocated it from near Rodney Square (WL29). Its design was meant to offer the greatest possible area of show-window glass. The second floor, reached by a circular stair, displayed used cars. In 2003–2004, Delaware Cadillac was rehabilitated by Buck Simpers Architect + Associates, who covered the historic building with an encrustation of Indiana limestone, a nationwide requirement of General Motors for all Cadillac dealerships. A spokesman told the Wilmington News-Journal, “The integrity of the building won't be affected.… It's still an example of Art Deco.” Preservationists vehemently disagreed.

Writing Credits

W. Barksdale Maynard


What's Nearby


W. Barksdale Maynard, "Automobile Row", [Wilmington, Delaware], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Delaware

Buildings of Delaware, W. Barksdale Maynard. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008, 133-133.

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