Filed Under Businesses

Osen Motor Sales Company

The gorgeous 1923 DeLongchamps building reflects the high status of the early automobile business.

The Osen Motor Sales Company opened its beautiful new Frederic DeLongchamps-designed building at 600 South Virginia Street in 1923, when the neighborhood was still almost entirely residential. It was a bold move for the company, which had operated a showroom and repair shop in downtown Reno for eight years. Its original location was alongside the railroad tracks on Plaza Row, widely known as “Auto Row” for its high concentration of automobile dealers. Many doubted the company could be successful so far from the center of town.

The physical relocation was prompted by two developments: the company’s need for more spacious accommodations and the street’s emerging status as a motor thoroughfare. Upon opening a Reno branch in 1915, the California-based Osen-McFarland Auto Company had exclusively offered Mitchell cars, but it was its second brand, Dodge Brothers, that sent its sales skyward. In short order, George A. Osen moved from the Bay Area to Reno to manage the company his father, George H. Osen, had co-founded, prompting its name change to Osen Motor Sales and its eventual move to South Virginia Street.

The $40,000 building set a new standard for auto sales and service. Its richly decorated exterior surface features both raised and recessed brick from the Reno Pressed Brick Company, rows of bricks laid in horizontal decorative patterns, and ornamented foliated pilaster capitals with medallions of terra cotta. The emblems inside these medallions, resembling a Jewish Star of David, are formed of two interlocking triangles with the interlocked letters D and B, for Dodge Brothers, in the center. The emblem served as the company’s logo through the late 1920s.

Inside, the building oozed with luxury. The expansive sales room was bathed in natural light from large plate glass windows. The ground floor also featured a repair and service shop in the rear, a conference room, private offices, and a stock room. An interior mezzanine level, reached by a stairway from the sales room, contained a reception hall, a ladies’ restroom, and George Osen’s private office.

In 1927, further success prompted the construction of an addition—the southern half of the current building—where the company offered used car sales, a service area, shower and bathroom, and battery store.

Osen got a promotion and moved back to the company's headquarters in San Jose, California in 1929. He returned to Reno several years later, and died in 1944 from complications following injuries sustained while serving overseas. Philip E. Dietz then bought the company, and the building later housed a series of auto dealers including the Dimond Motor Company, Les Schwimley Motors, and Nevada Chrysler Plymouth. No longer offering auto-related services, the building is now devoted to retail, dining, and various other businesses.

Images

Trucks for sale
Trucks for sale A row of trucks beckons customers outside the Osen Motor Sales building soon after a 1927 addition doubled its size. The house seen on the left was typical of the comfortable homes dominating this section of South Virginia Street at the time. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: ca. 1930
Decorative brick and landscaping
Decorative brick and landscaping A photograph from the 1930s shows the Osen Motors building before its brick was painted over. The intricate patterns of alternating colors and textures represent the attention to detail characterizing the work of esteemed architect Frederic DeLongchamps. Source: Jerry Fenwick and Neal Cobb Date: 1930s
Grand Opening
Grand Opening A newspaper article from October 1923 depicts the grand new building in its original form, 50 x 150 feet in size. The original structure later became the northern half of the building. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: October 27, 1923
Dodge Brothers B Type Sedan
Dodge Brothers B Type Sedan An advertisement for Osen Motor Sales found in the 1924 edition of the Nevada Newsletter offers a new Dodge Brothers sedan for the price of $1475, approximately $20,000 in today's dollars. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1924
Nick's Greek Deli
Nick's Greek Deli With most of its brick now painted a deep red, the Osen Motor Company building has lost its intricate original color scheme, but retains the texture and proportions that made such an impact upon its debut in 1923. Creator: Jerry Fenwick
Dodge Brothers emblem
Dodge Brothers emblem A close view of the Dodge Brothers emblem decorating the building reveals its interlocking triangles and the entwined letters D and B. Creator: Alicia Barber

Location

600 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Osen Motor Sales Company,” Reno Historical, accessed May 19, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/124.