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Auto show helps showcase historic building along LaSalle Street in Aurora

Montgomery resident Jim Zimmerman's 1955 Chevrolet 210 was focus photographer fifth annual Historic LaSalle Street aushow AurorSunday Aug. 25. |

Montgomery resident Jim Zimmerman's 1955 Chevrolet 210 was the focus of a photographer at the fifth annual Historic LaSalle Street auto show in Aurora on Sunday, Aug. 25. | Al Benson~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 29, 2013 6:11AM

Crowds of people showed their love for vintage beauties during the fifth annual LaSalle Street Auto Row Car Show on Sunday. But it became a true romance when their attention shifted gears to the historic buildings on the block.

“This is part of the original Lincoln Highway route through Aurora, at one time cars were coming from New York going to California,” Joe Dispensa said.

Hundreds of people admired the restored finishes and impeccable interiors of 50 cars and pickup trucks parked on either side of LaSalle Street, once known as an early automobile commercial center in Aurora.

Investors saw promise in LaSalle Street between Downer Place and Benton Street, and around the mid-1990s it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Investors continue even today to have interest in the LaSalle Street Auto Row Historic District.

Dispensa, 75, marveled over the sturdiness of the Theiss Building that he owns at 74-75 LaSalle St. The 1912 Central Garage Building was built so a car could be driven onto any floor. The floors are made of reinforced concrete slabs supported on I-beams bearing on steel columns.

He was gracious about sharing his enthusiasm during tours of the three-floor building and gladly took people up and down the original Otis 5,500-pound freight elevator.

“It was the first Buick LaSalle Street dealership in Aurora,” Dispensa said.

He also owns the building across the street at 75-77 S. LaSalle St., and his enthusiasm has inspired other property owners to be part of the progress.

Aurora photographer Jimi Allen has leased “co-working” space in the Theiss Building and two years ago bought the turn-of-the-century building at 52-54 S. LaSalle St. to launch his own media business.

The 1907 Coats Garage building was the first automobile sales and service building on the block. It, too, has the original elevator that transported cars to the second and third floors for storage and servicing.

“Joe was very hands-on in renovating his buildings. He really rolled his sleeves up, worked hard and gave me the opportunity to do the same thing,” Allen said.

Allen was also gracious about giving people tours up the elevator.

“We don’t want to lose these buildings,” he said.

Dispensa refers to Allen as one of his “prodigies” and the next generation to carry-on the vision of revitalizing the history of LaSalle Street.

“I feel as though I have done the best I can for the city of Aurora,” he said. “It’s time for the next generation.”

Dispensa said his heart skips an extra beat when people come to the annual car show and share stories of how a father bought the first family car on LaSalle Street.

“Ideally I would like to find a car sold from my building. There are a lot of them out there. That would be a thrill,” he said.

Members of the Friends of LaSalle Street said each year they worry how many antique cars will pull up the day of the show, but each year they have managed to fill two rows of cars and trucks on the block.

Oswego resident Gary Blocker, 73, showcased his 1918 Chevrolet model 490, the first car with an electric starter and generator, that you could buy for $490 at the time.

“You have to be a gear-head to have an appreciation for the car. It was the first overhead valve engine that came out of Detroit and it was the first year Chevrolet joined General Motors,” Blocker said.

Ryan Malloy, of Naperville, brought his “heavily modified” 1946 Chevy pickup for people to see.

“I wanted it to be different,” said Malloy, who builds hot rods.

Malloy said he used to have a shop in a historic building on New York Street. “There definitely is a romance between man and machine and man and old buildings in the town of Aurora,” Malloy said.

Aaron Bristow, of South Elgin, browsed past the rows of cars, his first time to the downtown historic auto show.

“We went to the junk yard earlier looking for car parts and saw there was a car show so we decided to check it out,” Bristow said. “There are a lot of nice cars here.”

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