The First of Its Kind: The Riverside Auto Center, 1965

October 3 - October 12, 2013

In 1958, the owners of Riverside’s seven most successful auto dealerships came together with the common goal of creating a centralized location where customers could peruse a variety of automobile makes and models. The concept of competing dealerships working together to showcase their inventories in the same setting was confounding to many, but soon proved to be a revolutionary and undisputed success.  The Riverside Auto Center became the first auto mall inthe country when Kennedy Pontiac opened its doors, preceding the grand opening in November 1965. 

The combination of forward-thinking and practicality inherent to the Riverside Auto Center venture was reflected in the Mid-Century Modern architectural aesthetic chosen by each of the dealership owners.  Each chose their own esteemed designers and building contractors and was under no obligation to seek each other’s approval, yet there were common design elements that connected them aesthetically.  The style was ideal to showcase their inventories, and was reflective of the progressive design sensibilities that would come to characterize Southern California architecture.   

Open floor plans, distinctive of Mid-Century Modern buildings, were ideal for the interior display of inventory and easy flow of foot traffic.  Walls of extra large windows further enhanced the open and airy feel of the interiors and allowed for passersby to catch a glimpse of some of the finer dealership offerings.  Furthermore, the landscaping that often reflected the natural environment of the Inland Empire could be virtually experienced indoors, creating a sense of ease.  In a similar vein, one may surmise that the open view of the outdoors could have enhanced the urge to take a new vehicle out for a drive.  Despite the distinctive architecture, cars were allowed to remain the focal point, complimented and enhanced by the strikingly simple lines of the majority of the building designs. 

Dutton Motor Company, formerly known as Rubidoux Automotive Co., is the only Riverside Auto Center dealership to remain in its original building, fundamentally unchanged.  The wood paneling, office space, and landscaping has remained the same.  The Dutton’s were acutely aware of the importance of a modern showroom and chose to have the rest of the building designed around it.  To gather ideas prior to the dealership’s design, the Dutton’s visited other dealerships designed by their architect, William P. Ficker.  

The Riverside Auto Center was situated to be easily accessible from four directions, located off of the 91 Freeway, just south of Downtown Riverside, and very close to the Highways 60 and 395 Junction.  As an additional draw, the original Riverside Auto Center also included a complex called the Center Mall that consisted of a carwash, offices, and a restaurant called The Rumble Seat.  Ultimately, that segment of the Auto Center did not prove as successful as they had hoped, and the parcels were divided and purchased by the dealerships.

Guest Curator Lindsey Rossi Annotated Biography

Lindsey Rossi is an independent curator who specializes in the history of design and decorative arts.  She has worked on design exhibitions and publications at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Bard Graduate Center Gallery, the Museum of Arts and Design, and the British Museum.  In 2012, Lindsey curated the well-received Riverside Art Museum exhibition, Julia Morgan: Foundation and Transition which focused on the exceptional work of the first licensed woman architect in California, and designer of the present home of RAM.