C.J. Motors

UPDATED 9/2021

C.J. MOTORS

 

Citroën dealerships began multiplying like rabbits in California in the late 1950’s. We can only think of a small handful of authorized Citroën dealerships in all of California in 1955; Challenger motors in L.A and Campbell Motors in Pasadena are two examples. A third if you include and Citroën Cars Corporation themselves on Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. A mere 5 years later in 1960, we count almost three dozen! One of these early dealerships was C.J. Motors, ran by a man named Clarence J. Felt Jr., better known as C.J. 

C.J. Motors’ first location in early 1955 was 2600 Telegraph Avenue in Berkley, just across the Oakland Bay Bridge from San Francisco. After only a few months, C.J. had moved his business one block away to a new location that would turn out to be quite memorable: 2566 Telegraph Avenue. This building became a bit of an icon in Berkeley, and our research revealed several twists about this building…

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Google Maps 2021

THE EARLY DAYS OF 2566 TELEGRAPH AVENUE

The oldest photo we were able to find of the building at 2566 Telegraph Avenue was dated from 1923 when the building was used by a company called, University Garage. University Garage specialized in automotive tires, but also performed repairs and occasionally sold used cars. If you look at the far-left window of the building (photo below), you can see a sign for Michelin Balloon Tires, a new tire technology that became popular in the early 1920’s. 

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Berkeleyside.org, photo circa 1923

2566 TELEGRAPH AVENUE IN 1923 AS “UNIVERSITY GARAGE”

Here is where it starts to get interesting. Take a closer look at the above photo. Specifically, look at the two names in the lower left corner. One of those names is C.J. Felt. But wait, something doesn’t make sense…..the C.J. Felt that ran C.J. Motors was born in 1921, so how could he have been associated with a 1923 photo of his building?

 

It turns out that C.J.’s father was also named C.J. Felt (Clarence J. Felt Sr.). So, it was C.J. Felt Sr. and his partner Joe L. Millet who started and ran University Garage in the 1920’s. 

 

We were able to find a photo of C.J. Felt Sr. and Joe Millet (see below). Note that in 1925, they had two locations for University Garage; the primary location at 2566 Telegraph Avenue and a second location at 2132 Kittridge Street, both in the city of Berkeley. 

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Oakland Tribune, Oct 1925

JOE MILLET (LEFT) AND C.J. FELT SR. (RIGHT)

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Polk City Directory 1922

1922 PHONE BOOK ADVERTISEMENT BY UNIVERSITY GARAGE

In the mid-1930’s, the building at 2566 Telegraph Avenue was sold (or leased) to a man named Harry Doten who turned it into a Pontiac dealership and renamed it University Motors (later renamed, Doten Pontiac). Below is a photo of the building in its 1930’s Pontiac days. 

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Berkeleyside.org, circa 1936

1930’s - UNIVERSITY MOTORS, A PONTIAC DEALERSHIP

THE BIRTH OF C.J. MOTORS 

 

Fast forward to late 1954 and C.J. Felt Jr., now in his mid-30’s, decided start up a new car dealership. The very first location was 2600 Telegraph Avenue but this only lasted a few months. By early 1955, C.J. Felt Jr. decided to occupy the SAME building that his father had used to sell tires in the 1920’s. How did C.J. Felt Jr. end up in this building after his father had vacated it over 25 years earlier? We would love to know the details…but exactly how this happened seems to have been lost to time.  

 

C.J. Felt Jr. named his business, C.J. Motors, a name that stayed associated with the building for several decades.

 

The Pontiac guys moved next door. 

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Photo provided by Pam Felt, circa early 1960’s

2566 TELEGRAPH AVE UNDER C.J. FELT JR.’S REIGN

The first cars C.J. offered when he started his business in late 1954 were Triumphs and English Fords (such as the Anglia and Zephyr). 

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Oakland Tribune, Nov 1959

C.J. MOTORS - THE MOST EXPERIENCED TRIUMPH DEALER IN THE BAY AREA BY 1959

ONE OF THE FIRST ENGLISH FORD ADS THAT LISTS C.J. MOTORS

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San Francisco Examiner, Feb 1955

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San Francisco Examiner, Mar 1957

1957 TRIUMPH AD SHOWING C.J. MOTORS

Oakland Tribune, Nov 1962

1962 PHOTO OF C.J. FELT JR. (LEFT) AND A FORD REPRESENTATIVE

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Rosamondpress.com “Malcolm and Willy,” photo likely from the late 1950’s

C.J. FELT (ON THE RIGHT) AND A NEW TR2

CITROEN AND C.J. MOTORS

 

In 1958, C.J. Felt Jr. made the decision to sell the French marque of Citroën. So, by early 1959, his showroom contained Citroëns in addition to English Fords and Triumphs. Along with Citroën, Panhards came with the deal, but C.J. seems to have put very little effort into trying to sell them. 

 

The very first advertisement that we can find for a Citroën from C.J. Motors was a small advertisement in the San Francisco Tribune in January of 1959 (see below).

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San Francisco Tribune, Jan 1959

C.J.’S FIRST NEWSPAPER AD FOR A CITROEN?

1959 ADVERTISEMENT SHOWING C.J. MOTORS

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Oakland Tribune, Nov 1959

C.J. TRIES AND FAILS WITH HANSA

 

In late 1960, C.J. tried adding Hansa cars to his line-up. Hansa was a German manufacturer dating from 1905 but was taken over by Borgward in 1931. Borgward marketed the Hansa 1100 (also known as a Goliath 1100) until 1961 when Borgward itself collapsed and went out of business. As a result, C.J.’s attempt to sell the Hansa brand in early 1961 came to an end after only a few months. 

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Oakland Tribune, Jan 1961

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Wikipedia, 2021

BORGWARD-HANSA 1100 (a.k.a. GOLIATH 1100)

OTHER LOCATIONS FOR C.J. MOTORS?

 

In 1961, C.J. flirted with a second location for his business. The address of 2801 Broadway in Oakland shows up in a number of 1961 advertisements for C.J. Motors (the above advertisement is a typical example). The factory dealer directory for 1960 also shows C.J. Felt having these two locations. 

 

Oddly, two other companies tried to sell Citroëns from this same address in Oakland at about the same time. One was called Hanzel Motors in 1959 and the second was Motor France in 1960.  

HANZEL MOTORS CITROEN DEALERSHIP, 1959

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Oakland Tribune, Dec 1959

MOTOR FRANCE SELLING CARS FROM 2801 BROADWAY IN 1960

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San Francisco Examiner, April 1960

We were unable to figure out the relationship between C.J. Motors, Hanzel Motors, and Motor France. But it appears that Ed Hanzel's business failed in 1959, then Motor France tried to pick up the pieces in 1960 but also failed. Finally in late 1960 or early 1961, C.J. stepped in, but this location also didn't work for C.J. 

 

Whatever was going on between Hanzel Motors, Motor France, and C.J. Felt, it ended by 1961 and C.J. stuck with his original building on Telegraph Avenue for the rest of his time in California. 

For a while, C.J. also had a separate location for his parts department. He used a building at 2420 Parker Street in Berkeley just for parts sales. 

IT LOOKS LIKE A US$50 DEPOSIT WAS ALL YOU NEEDED IN 1965 TO ORDER YOURSELF A NEW 2CV FROM C.J. MOTORS!

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Provided by Greg Long

THE COMPETITION

In the late 1950's and early 1960's, poor old C.J. had to contend with quite a bit of local competition. First of all, there was Dick Dye Imports, located a mere 10 miles (16 km) away from C.J.'s Berkeley location and 6 miles (10 km) away from his (short-lived) Oakland location. Dick Dye not only handled Citroën, but also handled English Ford and Triumph cars; the exact line-up that C.J. was handling. Then there was Executive Motors, located 13 miles (21 km) west in San Francisco that handled Citroën and Shamrock motors, about 25 miles (40 km) west in Mill Valley. 

No wonder these guys had trouble keeping the doors of their businesses open! 

THE FORD CORTINA

 

As the 1960’s marched on, C.J. continued to offer Citroëns, Triumphs, and English Fords. By the mid-1960’s, the English Ford-of-the-day was the Cortina model. In addition to the standard Cortina, C.J. routinely advertised the desirable Lotus-Cortina. The Lotus-Cortina was a collaboration between Lotus and Ford of England to make a high-performance version of the car. The Lotus-Cortina was offered between 1963 and 1970. 

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Wikipedia, 2021

1963 LOTUS-CORTINA 

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Lotus-Cortina.com, photo by Robert Winkelmann, circa 1967

C.J. MOTORS SPONSORED CORTINA AT A CALIFORNIA RACE TRACK IN 1967

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Oakland Tribune, Nov 1966

1966 ADVERTISEMENT FOR A CORTINA AT C.J. MOTORS

C.J. had a partner in the business; a man named John Bolander, who acted as sales manager. Bolander fancied himself a bit of a race car driver and ran Ford Cortinas in various races around California. The above photo shows a race-prepped Cortina sponsored by C.J. Motors, driven by Bolander and fellow driver, Robert Winkelmann. 

TIME TO CALL IT QUITS

 

By 1969, C.J. decided it was time to close his dealership. We suspect that his decision to close the business was due to the cold-hard fact that none of the cars he offered were particularly good sellers in the late 1960’s. Ford stopped importing their British Cortinas in 1970 due to an ongoing drop in sales and Triumph sales were always a bit wobbly in the USA. This left Citroën. Citroën sales were sparse in the USA, but they did have a loyal following and were probably selling as good as they ever did in the late 1960’s. 

 

There were other things going on in Berkeley in the late 1960’s that might have affected his decision to shut down the business. We will get to that later….

 

C.J. Motors closed in 1969 after a 15-year run.

LIFE AFTER C.J. MOTORS

 

After C.J. Felt closed his business in 1969, he packed up his family and moved to Portland, Oregon where he snagged a job at Roger Sagner’s Motor Mart. Sagner was a dealer of Citroen, SAAB, Peugeot, and English Morgans. For more information on Sagner’s operation, read the “1960’s” section of this website for the state of Oregon. 

 

C.J.’s stay in Oregon was brief. A year or so later, he moved to Seattle and in about 1971, he became service manager at Kolar’s Citroën/Jeep dealership in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle (for more information about Kolar’s, read the “1970’s” section of this website for Seattle). C.J. almost singlehandedly kept Kolar’s involved in Citroën parts and repairs after Citroën stopped bringing cars into North America. Remember that at this point, there were hundreds of Citroëns driving around Seattle and the last remaining dealer in the entire state was Kolar’s. Kolar’s finally gave up and closed their doors in about 1979.

 

After Kolar’s, C.J. worked as service manager for a Renault/Peugeot/Subaru dealer in South Seattle called, Rainier Beach Imports. Rainier Beach Imports, located at 9245 Rainier Avenue South in Seattle, ran from about 1979 to 1988, when they filed for Bankruptcy. After Rainier Beach Imports, C.J. retired to his home in Kirkland, WA. 

 

C.J. loved Citroëns, more than any of the other cars he had been involved with over his many decades in the business. He kept a beautiful red 1967 DS21 Wagon into his retirement. I remember visiting him once at his house and he had the aluminum roof rack on the wagon all apart and he was hand-polishing every piece. The car was impeccable. 

 

C.J. passed away in 2004, leaving his DS wagon to his daughter, Pam who is active in the world of French cars. When C.J. died, Pam wrote this about her father:

"...Though I was not much beyond the typical confused teenage years, I amazingly recall my father sitting back on occasion and fondly uttering, "A thousand Frenchmen can't be wrong" when referring to some point pertaining to the Citroëns, Peugeots, or Renaults. He was always so passionate about them; he loved their simplicity, he loved their lines. Everything about their design had a reason, he felt, and thus to me his proclamation, "A thousand Frenchmen can't be wrong" was an obvious show of support to the designers, the French engineers of these cars! Yes, even confused teenagers can grasp such impressions (at least upon repetition)..."

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Photo provide by Pam Felt

C.J. FELT JR.

In an odd sidelight to this story, we found that C.J. Felt's brother, Richard Felt, was killed when an experimental sea-plane owned and piloted by Howard Hughes crashed into Lake Mead, Nevada. Richard Felt was the lead mechanic on the project. Howard Hughes was piloting the aircraft in May of 1943 when the plane suddenly nose-dived into the lake. A piece of propeller broke off as the airplane struck the water and hit Richard Felt in the head, resulting in a fatal injury. 

MORE ON THE BUILDING AT 2566 TELEGRAPH AVENUE

 

The building that housed C.J. Motors is a bit iconic in Berkeley history.

 

A noted earlier, the building was used by C.J.’s father and Joe Millet in the early 1920’s for their automotive tire business, University Garage. We think they were probably the first occupants of the building, or at least close to being the first occupants. After about a dozen years, C.J. Felt Sr. vacated the building and it morphed into a Pontiac Dealership in the 1930’s, called University Motors, later re-named, Doten Pontiac. Much later, the Pontiac dealership changed names again to Cunha Pontiac.

 

Even though C.J. Felt Sr. vacated the building in the mid-1930's to make room for the Pontiac dealership, he didn’t stray too far. We found that he was associated with a Texaco gas station in the early 1940’s that was right next door (2590 Telegraph Avenue). One source indicates that his business was named, Felt’s Super Service Station. Glimpses of this gas station can be seen in several of the following photos. While researching this gas station, we found that, C.J. Felt Sr. was involved in a scandal in 1944 involving counterfeit gas ration coupons and ended up being charged by the authorities (gas was rationed with paper coupons during the war years). 

 

Between 1947 and 1954 it is unclear how the building was being used, but most likely it was still being used in some capacity by the Pontiac dealership who had been bouncing from building-to-building in the area in an apparent attempt to optimize their footprint. 

 

By January of 1955 C.J. Felt Jr. somehow got the building back that his father has used several decades earlier and opened his Triumph and English Ford dealership, called, C.J. Motors. Soon after, the Pontiac dealership was back next door to C.J., this time on the north side of his building. In 1959, C.J. added the Citroën marque to his line of English Fords and Triumphs. 

 

During C.J. Felt Jr.’s reign at this building, there was more than automotive work going on there. This was the 1960’s in Berkeley after all… The Berkeleyside.org website has this to say:

 

“…This was no ordinary garage or car dealer; between December 1965 and April 1966, C.J. Motors was a venue for an eclectic mix of live music performances, including jazz, the Loiellet Chamber Ensemble, the Laney College Chorus, and Berkeley’s almost-famous Loading Zone…”

 

The 1960’s in Berkeley was all not peace and love. In a 2016 memo written by the Berkeley City Manager and addressed to the Berkeley Mayor, the following historical perspective is written about this specific building and the adjacent buildings along Telegraph Avenue:

 

“…As the 1960s wore on, social unrest and anti-(Vietnam)-war sentiment deepened and activism became widespread. An especially crucial day, triggered by the sudden fencing-off of People’s Park was May 15, 1969: “Bloody Thursday.” On that day police and sheriff’s deputies repeatedly clashed with protestors along and near Telegraph’s fifth block - and shotguns were even fired at rooftop spectators, hitting several of them including fatally wounded James Rector. One of that day’s tense moments is glimpsed (in the photo below) - which happens to also partially show what the buildings holding C.J. Motors and Cunha Pontiac looked like at the time....” 

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Photo from a 2016 memo to the Berkeley City Mayor from the Berkeley City Manager. The photo originally was from a book called People’s Park by Copeland and Arai,

C.J. MOTORS (ON THE LEFT) FINDS ITSELF IN THE MIDDLE OF A VIOLENT DEMONSTRATION IN 1969

The city manager goes on to write:

 

“…Such turbulence, and fear of more to come, likely influenced auto dealers’ subsequent decisions about whether or how long to continue operating on Telegraph (Avenue). And in fact, the last year when the local telephone book showed the dealerships there was 1969 in the case of C.J. Motors, 1970 regarding Doten (Cunha) Pontiac, and 1971 in the case of British Motors…”

 

After C.J. vacated the building in 1969, the building was renamed, C.J.’s Old Garage and became a collection of businesses described as “hippie” arts and crafts. A 1969 issue of the Berkeley Gazette described C.J.’s Old Garage as a “…creative shopping mall with a Berkeley flavor...”. The developer was a man named Larry Brooding and he transformed the building into 21 smaller shops in “…a two-tiered village … that’ll give the aura of a movie set...”

 

A grainy photo of C.J.’s Old Garage is shown below (photo is estimated to be from about 1970). Notice the Texaco gas station on the south side of the building. This is the gas station that C.J. Felt Sr. was involved with in the 1940’s, after he shut down University Garage. 

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Photo from Berkeleyside.org, originally form Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, circa 1970

VIEW OF 2566 TELEGRAPH AVE AFTER C.J. MOTORS, NOW CALLED 'C.J.’S OLD GARAGE'

Several 1970’s hand-drawn flyers have been found from the shops in C.J.’s Old Garage. One such is provided (right).

C.J.’s building at 2566 Telegraph Avenue survives today and is still a collection of a few small shops, although now only 3 or 4 shops and not the 21 arts and crafts shops of the 1970’s. 

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Berkeleyside.org

2566 TELEGRAPH AVENUE SUMMARY OF PHOTOS

 

We are fortunate that there are a number of surviving photos showing the C.J. Motors building that span 100 years! 

1923 PHOTO: UNIVERSITY GARAGE RUN BY C.J. FELT SR.

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Berkeleyside.org, photo circa 1923

1936 PHOTO: UNIVERSITY MOTORS NOW A PONTIAC DEALERSHIP

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Berkeleyside.org, circa 1936

PHOTO EARLY 1960's: C.J. MOTORS RUN BY C.J. FELT JR.

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Photo provided by Pam Felt

PHOTO ABOUT 1970: C.J.'S OLD GARAGE, A COLLECTION OF SMALL ARTS AND CRAFTS BUSINESSES

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Photo from Berkeleyside.org, originally form Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, circa 1970

PHOTO 2021: CURRENT VIEW, A COLLECTION OF 3-4 SMALL BUSINESSES

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Google Street View 2021

C.J.’s FABULOUS DS19

 

Sometime back in the 1960’s when C.J. Motors was still operating, a customer traded in a 1957 DS19. The car was unusually nice and C.J. decided to keep it for himself. The car migrated to Oregon and then to Seattle along with C.J. and his family. C.J. sold the car in the 1980’s and it quickly fell into disrepair. However, Dr. Paul Joos from Bellevue, WA eventually bought the car and had it fully restored in Seattle. There is more about this car in the Seattle section of this website. 

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Photo provided by Chris Dubuque

C.J. FELT's 1957 DS19, NOW OWNED BY PAUL JOOS

SOURCES

 

As with most of these dealership histories, much of the content was sourced from period newspapers which are now widely available on-line. 

 

City directories and other information was obtained from the Alameda County Public Library. 

 

The October 15, 1921 issue of Motor West magazine briefly discussed University Garage in the early 1920’s. 

 

A 2016 memo (LPC-NOD: 2556 Telegraph Avenue) written the Berkeley City Manager (Dee Williams-Ridley) to the Mayor of Berkeley concerned historic building preservation and provided a wealth of information about several ex-automotive buildings along Telegraph Avenue, including 2566 Telegraph Avenue and C.J. Motors. This memo also discussed the civil unrest of the late 1960’s.

 

The Berkeleyside.org website contained good description of the various uses of this building and a few good photos. 

 

The following people helped in the preparation of this article (listed alphabetically): Chris Dubuque, Richard Bonfond, and Pam Felt.