Ruined in Fire : Dealer Junks a Million in Mercedeses

Times Staff Writer

A Santa Monica Mercedes-Benz dealer is removing the charred debris from the site of a fire that demolished the firm's showroom on Wilshire Boulevard and ruined 21 new cars valued at nearly $1 million.

W. I. Simonson Inc.'s general manager, Elvira Reed, said the company expects the loss from last Thursday's fire to total $3 million to $4 million.

All 21 luxury cars suffered extensive fire damage, but could all be driven out of the showroom during the clean-up, Reed said. "Even the horns still worked," she said.

Cars Cannot Be Sold

The cars, each of which carried a price tag of $40,000 or more, are so badly damaged that they cannot be sold and will have to be junked, she said.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, according to Santa Monica Fire Department officials.

The family-owned concern was founded by William Isaac Simonson in 1937 as one of Los Angeles' first Packard agencies, and became a Mercedes-Benz dealership in 1957, according to Frances Rehwald, granddaughter of the founder.

Rehwald said that although the showroom, at 1626 Wilshire, was destroyed, the service department remains functional. Sales activities for new and used cars are being conducted at the company's facilities at 17th Street and Wilshire, she said.

Temporary Quarters

Patio furniture has been set up on the former used-car lot for the convenience of buyers, and office work is being done in temporary trailers while the cleanup continues at the ruined showroom building across the street, she said.

Rehwald said that the owners hope to rebuild the showroom in the same Spanish revival style as the original structure, which was built in the early 1920s. She said plans depend on Santa Monica city regulations, but owners would like "to retain the historic flavor" of the site.

Although the fire broke out just before 6 p.m. on Thursday while the dealership was still open, no customers were in the building and all the employees were safely escorted out, Reed said. No one was injured in the blaze, she said.

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