Verdugo Views: Studebaker dealer was active Glendale citizen


Stephen Packer left home at the very young age of 17, off to seek his fortune in the logging business. Eventually he made his way to Glendale where he became a prosperous auto dealer.

Packer, born in Bloomington, Ill., in 1866, was the son of a prominent farmer and livestock dealer in Bloomington. After attending public schools, he left for northern Michigan, where he worked in logging camps for more than 20 years. In 1892, he married a Michigan native, Etta Hardy, and they had two children, Donald and Doris, according to “History of Glendale and Vicinity” by John Calvin Sherer.

From Michigan, Packer took his family west to Aberdeen, Wash., to work for Grays Harbor Logging Company. He was their secretary and treasurer for five years.

Then, in 1910, leaving the drizzle of Aberdeen behind, Packer brought his family to Glendale, still a small village of about 4,000 people at the time, his son Donald told a Glendale News-Press reporter on Nov. 16, 1984. Packer bought a tract of land on Riverdale Drive, built a home for his family, and then became a building contractor, constructing the Central Building, on East Broadway, in partnership with Howard W. Walker and the Lynch Brothers.

In 1916, Packer looked around for something new and different to do and realized that Glendale had less than a half dozen car agencies. He investigated the various automobiles then being built and decided to handle Studebakers because of their reputation of successful service, as noted in the News-Press, Feb. 22, 1934.

He opened for business in 1917, and for many years it was the only Studebaker agency in the region.

At first, he had partners, but in 1921 he became the sole owner, doing business as Packer Motor Company in preparation for bringing his son Donald into the dealership.

In a 1921 interview Packer said the dealership was one of the most enviable motor sales businesses around. “Studebaker sales are rapidly reaching the front rank in motordom and in the state of California. They are now standing next to Ford in the number of new orders this year.”

Parker added that it was impossible to supply the demand in all models and that every dealer was short on his order. “Sales locally are far beyond those of last year and the outlook here is very promising.”

By 1920, Packer’s Studebaker business was one of several dealerships clustered on Brand Boulevard and that year he joined several others in forming the Glendale Motor Car Dealers Association.

Among other founders of the car dealers association were W.H. Tanner, Jesse E. Smith, Porter Kelley, C.L. Smith, and E.L. Sutton, as noted in the News-Press, January 26, 1978.

Packer was one of the organizers and a charter member of Glendale Lodge, No. 1289, B.P.O.E. He was also a Past Exalted Ruler. In addition, he was a Master Mason, served as a director of the Chamber of Commerce, and was a member of the advisory board of the Brand Boulevard Branch of the Pacific-Southwest Trust and Savings Bank.

John Hammell, Jr. writes “Just wanted to let you know I continue to enjoy your column. I’m really glad it has become a weekly column. I have a question that maybe you can answer.” Hammell then referred to a column on May 8, 2011 about silent film actor Harrison Ford who had been his neighbor when he was growing up. “I recently checked with the News-Press to see if I could get a few copies of that issue. Unfortunately, they had no extra copies left, but said the column is on line.” Hammell said he did an extensive search, but could not find it. “Many of your columns are online,” he added. “Do you know why that one is not?’’

Mr. Hammell, I also tried to locate that particular column online, but had no success. As you noted, most of the recent Verdugo Views columns are available through the Glendale News-Press website.