LOS ANGELES -- On a mile-long stretch of Figueroa Street just south of downtown, a former history professor is rebuilding part of Los Angeles' automotive heritage.
Long before L.A. became a skein of freeways, Figueroa was the city's Automobile Row. As far back as the mid-1920s, the street was chockablock with dealerships for such brands as Dodge Bros., Buick, Flint Motors and Hupmobile.
Nearly a century later, Darryl Holter, the onetime academic who heads L.A.'s Shammas Automotive Group, is putting the finishing touches on a $30 million overhaul of his Downtown L.A. Motors Mercedes-Benz store. The new building is the latest in a series of dealership projects that will total nearly $80 million and will have helped re-establish Figueroa as an auto row in the heart of Los Angeles.
Since the plan got under way in 2004, Holter estimates the group's sales have grown from about 250 a month to a record of more than 1,700 new vehicles in March. The project also has yielded new or renovated facilities for Holter's Volks-wagen, Porsche, Audi, Nissan and Chevrolet dealerships.
Next up: a new $20 million dealership one block away for the Toyota franchise recently awarded to the Shammas group. "That's the last parcel that we have that isn't fully utilized," Holter says. "In that sense, I'll feel that I've satisfied my goal."
Yet at age 66, the CEO shows no signs of slowing down. He is chairman of the California New Car Dealers Association, where he's lobbying for legislation to help clarify state franchise laws and help dealers handle factory-set performance standards. He's also an adjunct professor and occasional lecturer at the University of Southern California and a singer-songwriter who has released three albums. In his latest project, Holter is writing the music for a collection of song lyrics written by Woody Guthrie in the late 1930s.
No matter what happens, he says, "it's not like I'm going to sit around and do nothing."