By Jared Olar
A query regarding the automobile dealerships that once plied their trade in and around Downtown Pekin in days gone by recently prompted me to look into the history of the Bristow Motor Company, which once was Pekin’s certified Ford dealership. It opened in 1937, founded by Lester Bristow and Vern Grandia.
Older residents of Pekin will recall that Bristow Ford – which by the way would be a great name for a country music band – operated out of a building in the 700 block of Court Street, a familiar structure to those who drive along Court Street. It’s just east of St. Joseph Catholic Church and across the street from St. John Lutheran Church. A younger generation might remember it as the location of Meineke Discount Mufflers (later Meineke Car Care Center). After sitting vacant for several years, the current owners are refurbishing the old Bristow Building.
As for its street address, Bristow Motors’ official building number has varied somewhat over the years, starting out at 714-716 Court Street, later expanding to include 710 Court and even 720 Court before contracting again to just 716 Court St.
The 1949 “Pekin Centenary” volume, page 114, includes the following short history of Bristow Motor Company:
“Mr. L. R. Bristow and Mr. V. A. Grandia acquired the business August 3, 1934, from James and Gerald Conaghan, when it was located at the corner of Court and Sixth Streets.
“In the fall of 1936, ground was broken on land acquired from the Haas estate, for the new 100’ x 160’ Bristow Motor Company building at 714-16 Court Street. It was the most modern garage building in the Pekin area at that time, and on May 10, 1937, the grand opening was held.
“The senior partner, L. R. Bristow, passed away on November 4, 1937, and on January 1, 1938, V. A. Grandia became sole owner of the business.
“In July of 1938, the lot adjacent to 714 Court was acquired by V. A. Grandia, which now makes the establishment 160’ x 150’.
“Mr. Grandia was 32 years old when he became sole owner, is married and has two children, Gloria and Luther. Luther is learning the business and eventually will become a partner.
“Bristow Motor Company has one of the most modern and complete service departments in Central Illinois.”
The Polk City Directories for Pekin show that Bristow Motors at 720 Court was the local Ford dealership until either 1956 or 1957. In 1956 Bristow is listed as the Ford dealership, but the library does not have a copy of the 1957 directory. In the 1958 directory, Bristow is just “Bristow Used Cars.” In that same directory, however, Velde is listed as the authorized Ford dealership, at 716 Court St. – i.e., right next door to Bristow.
Bristow Used Cars (at 720 Court) and Velde Ford (at 716 Court) continue to appear next to each other in the directories up to 1965, which is the last time Velde is listed at 716 Court. The next year, 1966, the directory shows Velde Ford out on Auto Row, where it’s been ever since.
Meanwhile, Vernon A. “Vern” Grandia continued to operate Bristow Used Cars at 716/720 Court St. until 1976. The next year, 1977, his son Luther D. Grandia is shown as Bristow’s owner, same location. Luther D. Grandia is listed as the owner/operator of Bristow Used Cars up to 1989.
The next year, 1990, “Ronald Hauke” (sic – “Hauhe”) Auto Co. is listed at 716 Court St., while the “720” street number is assigned to L & M Gymnastics. In 1991, though, 720 Court St. (at the corner of Court and 8th) became the address of Downers Furniture, while Ronald Hauhe Auto. Co. remained at 716 Court St., also being listed there in 1992.
The 1993 city directory shows 716 Court St. as “vacant,” but in 1994, Meineke Discount Mufflers first appears at 716 Court St. There it remained up to 2010. Starting in 2006, Meineke is listed as “Meineke Car Care Center.”
The directories do not having any listing for 716 Court St. in 2011 and 2012, but Meineke Car Care Center reappears in 2013, 2014, and 2015. It could be that Meineke failed to update their entry in 2011 and 2012 and so were not listed, or Meineke could have been shuttered for a couple years before reopening for three more years, or else the Polk Directory has a “ghost” entry for 2013-2015.
The 2016 and 2017 city directories have no listing for 716 Court St. In 2018, James Hoelzel appears as a new listing at 716 Court St., but the 2019 directory has no listing for that address.