The Santa Maria branch of the Automobile Club of Southern California is celebrating its 100th birthday beginning on Wednesday, May 16 at its 2033 S. Broadway location with a community event including free window VIN etching for vehicles to prevent car theft.
“We are proud to have been a part of the Santa Maria community for 100 years, and we now serve more than 38,000 members in our branch,” said Nicole Baker, the Auto Club’s Santa Maria branch manager. “We encourage members to visit us during our Centennial to join the celebration and allow us to thank them for their membership.”
Members and non-members can visit the branch on May 16 to receive a free service that discourages car theft – an etching of their VIN number on all vehicle windows. The Auto Club is offering the free etching in conjunction with the Santa Maria Police Department, California Highway Patrol and National Insurance Crime Bureau. The etching will be offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Car theft is the No. 1 property crime in the U.S. Law-enforcement officials say the permanent engraving of a vehicle’s federally registered VIN etching helps deter car theft, because VIN-etched car parts cannot be sold as easily by thieves. Car dealers charge $200 or more to etch VINs on vehicle windows.
The Santa Maria branch will also celebrate the centennial May 16 during its office hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with refreshments and historical displays, including an antique Auto Club vehicle.
The Auto Club was founded in Los Angeles in December 1900 by 10 horseless-carriage enthusiasts. When the Santa Maria branch opened in 1918, it was the fifteenth Auto Club branch. Today, the Auto Club has 84 branches throughout Southern California, including three in Santa Barbara County.
The Santa Maria branch has occupied five buildings over the last 100 years, all on Broadway. Its first location was in the Telephone Building downtown. It moved to 121 S. Broadway from 1919 through 1922, and then to 310 N. Broadway from 1922 to 1937, 725 S. Broadway from 1937 to 1982, and then to its current 2033 S. Broadway location in June 1982. Both the 310 N. Broadway and 725 S. Broadway buildings are still standing.
One of the main reasons Santa Maria was chosen as an early Auto Club branch was its important location for regional travelers. Even before the branch existed, the Auto Club placed an “Information Bureau” in Santa Maria to assist motorists traveling between southern and northern California. The club completed the posting of road signs throughout Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County in 1915 to aid residents and tourists before the California Department of Transportation assumed that responsibility.
The Auto Club and the city of Santa Maria share an important link: G. Allan Hancock, a pioneering figure in California’s early 20th century because of his many accomplishments and talents. Capt. Hancock was a philanthropist, aviator, shipmaster, shipbuilder, railroad engineer, oil and realty entrepreneur, agricultural innovator, and skilled cellist. He served as one of the early Auto Club board members in Los Angeles from 1905 to 1909, and as board president from 1907 to 1909.
No street signs or maps existed to guide early motorists, so Hancock and other Auto Club board members personally charted roads and posted road signs before the Club was able to hire employees for those tasks. In the 1920s, his interest turned to Santa Maria and he bought the bankrupt Santa Maria Valley Railroad, which is still running today to transport crops. His extensive involvement with the city lasted until his death in 1965 and included establishing Rosemary Farm and an aviation school that trained many World War II pilots. The campus later became the public community college that bears his name.
For more information on Auto Club membership and services, visit the Santa Maria branch or AAA.com. The branch phone number is (805) 922-5731. Branch hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.