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100 Years In Whittier: Auto Club Branch Celebrates Centennial With Free “VIN Etching” Community Service

Whittier Centennial
The Whittier Auto Club branch was located at 135 N. Greenleaf St. just south of Philadelphia Avenue in the 1920s. Photos copyright Automobile Club of Southern California Archives.

The Whittier branch of the Automobile Club of Southern California is celebrating its 100th birthday on Wednesday, Oct. 24 at its 16041 Whittier Blvd. 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 Whittier community for 100 years, and we now serve more than 126,000 members in our branch,” said Rachel Chavez, the Auto Club’s Whittier 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 Oct. 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 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 TRAP, the Taskforce for Regional Autotheft Prevention, made up of law enforcement agencies including the California Highway Patrol and the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). The agencies will also offer theft prevention tips to car owners.

Car theft is the No. 1 property crime in the U.S., and more than 49,000 cars were stolen in Los Angeles County last year – including 313 in Whittier, according to the FBI and Whittier Police Department.  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 Whittier branch will also celebrate its centennial Oct. 24 during its office hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with historical displays. Members will receive free commemorative gifts.

The Auto Club was founded in Los Angeles in December 1900 by 10 horseless-carriage enthusiasts. When the Whittier branch opened in 1918, it was the sixteenth Auto Club branch. Today, the Auto Club has 84 branches throughout Southern California, including 31 in Los Angeles County.

The Whittier branch has occupied five buildings over the last 100 years. Its first location opened in October 1918 at 115 N. Philadelphia St. in the historic uptown area, near the current Crystal Marquis event center. It moved about a block away to 135 N. Greenleaf Ave., (now 7021 Greenleaf Ave. and the site of a church) in May 1921, then to 313 N. Greenleaf Ave. (now 7315 Greenleaf Ave., currently part of a restaurant) in May 1931. Whittier members used that branch for nearly 30 years before it relocated in 1959 to 1244 S. Painter Ave. (now 8522 S. Painter Ave. and occupied by medical offices). That branch was in use for 46 years before the Auto Club moved to its current Whittier Boulevard office in 2005.

Even prior to opening the first Whittier branch, the Auto Club was involved in efforts to improve mobility for local residents. It was among the major proponents of building Turnbull Canyon Road, which was completed in 1914 and considerably shortened the driving distance between Whittier and the San Gabriel Valley.

When the Auto Club established its Whittier branch, the city had a population of more than 8,000 and was one of the top producers of English walnuts, along with citrus and avocados. It was the last stop on one of the most popular Pacific Electric Red Car lines, which opened in 1904 and served residents from Whittier to Los Angeles.

The Auto Club posted Southern California’s first road signs starting in 1906, including many street signs in Whittier. It initiated emergency road service in 1924 and started the region’s first highway patrol service in 1924 (unlike today’s CHP, this was solely dedicated to helping stranded motorists and even delivered milk and medical supplies). The Automobile Club of Southern California initiated and completed the signposting of the National Old Trails route from Kansas City to Los Angeles, used by thousands of tourists and immigrants to California. The Southern California club also was one of the first promoters and route engineers for building the International Pacific Highway from Fairbanks, Alaska to Mexico City.

For more information on Auto Club membership and services, visit the Whittier branch or The branch phone number is (562) 698-3721. Branch hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.


Media Contacts

Marie Montgomery
(714) 420-0477 (cell)
CST 1016202-80 Copyright © Automobile Club of Southern California. All Rights Reserved.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.