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Brokaw Auto & Body Co.
Brokaw Carriage Company, 1883-1921; John B. Brokaw Auto & Body Co., 1921-1920s; Los Angeles, California
Associated Firms
Earl Automobile Works

John Bush Brokaw (b.1852-d.1926) was born in Mt. Liberty, Liberty Township, Knox County, Ohio on July 25, 1852 to John A. and Caroline (Bush) Brokaw. The elder Brokaw was a shoemaker and farmer, originally from Somerset County, New Jersey and was blessed with 13 children of which John Bush, was second youngest.

After a public education the subject of our biography became engaged with a local vehicle builder and dealer where he quickly developed a reputation as a good salesman and by the mid-1870s had established his own agricultural implement and buggy wareroom in the style of J.B. Brokaw Co.

Mt. Liberty was situated on the state road leading from Mt. Vernon to Columbus, and after the establishment of the Cleveland, Mt. Vernon & Columbus railroad, it experienced a rapid growth as did J.B. Brokaw Co, the townships sole buggy and implement dealer.

Brokaw married Ida Higgins on 16, 1882, and soon after the newlyweds elected to sell their Mt. Liberty warerooms and relocate to Los Angeles, California where he established the Brokaw Carriage Co.

Buggies and horse-drawn agricultural wagons were Brokaw’s most popular products and as the Los Angeles Basin became more populated, Brokaw’s business increased and he began to stock a line of high quality buggies and carriages that were imported from Eastern manufacturers.

In the mid-1890s Brokaw took some of his buggy profits and invested in the newly-founded Title Guarantee and Trust Company of Los Angeles and in the early 1900s helped found the Hollywood Savings Bank and Trust Co., of which he was also a director.

In 1911 the landscape of the “Valley” changed forever when the Horsley Brothers made their fist motion picture in an abandoned tavern on Sunset Blvd. at Gower St. That new industry brought Brokaw a new line of work, building and refurbishing automobile bodies for the nouveau riche movie stars and industry executives that now made Hollywood their home.

In 1919 Brokaw relocated his business to the former Earl Automobile Works plant at 1320 S. Main St., which had recently been vacated as Earl was now in charge of the coach work department of the Don Lee Cadillac Corp. which was located at W. 7th Ave. and S. Bixel St. in downtown Los Angeles.

A number of Earl’s employees did not make the move to Don Lee, and were invited to stay and work for Brokaw, among them were E.B. White, Earl’s former superintendent, and Anthony Gerrity, a young designer who would later gain fame as the designer of the 1936 Cord 810/812.

Another Brokaw employee was legendary racecar builder Frank Peter Kurtis’ father, Francika Andrew Kuretich (originally Kuretic), a skilled craftsman who worked for Brokaw in 1921-1922. Kuretich left to work for Don Lee Coach & Body Works where he was joined by his 14-year-old son Frank.

The firm was reorganized as the John B. Brokaw Auto & Body Co, and the January 15, 1922 issue of Motor West made formal announcement of the firm’s incorporation and purchase of the former Earl Automobile Works:

“Los Angeles, Cal. – John B. Brokaw Auto & Body Co., to build automobile and coach bodies, has taken over a large building, 1320 S. Main St.; John B Brokaw, former Eastern coach builder, is president; E.B. White, former superintendent for Earl Auto Works, later for Don Lee Coach & Body Co., is general manager; and J.R. Morrison, sales manager.”

As did most of Los Angles body builders, Brokaw customized vehicles for a number of silent movie stars, the most famous of which was Tom Mix, for who they constructed a Duesenberg Model A convertible coupe that included a set of steer horns mounted in front of the car's radiator shell.

In a 1977 letter to the Classic Car, noted Los Angeles-based automobile designer W. Everett Miller recalled his memories of the Brokaw Works:

“Your letter inquiring about Jack Gerrity* was received last Thursday. I first met Jack in 1921 when I was the body designer for the Walter M. Murphy Co. in Pasadena and he was the body designer for the John B. Brokaw Co. in the old building of the Earl Carriage works in the 1200 block on South Main Street in Los Angeles. That was a short lived venture with no significant contribution to custom automobiles. However Jack was a clever designer, perhaps five years older than I.”

*In the letter Miller refers to Gerrity as Jack Gerrity, although period sources reveal that his given name was Anthony (Tony) Gerrity.

Miller’s impression of the firm was most likely accurate as references and pictures of Brokaw’s work are few and far between. When Brokaw passed away in 1926, he left a very sizeable estate to his nieces and nephews as his union with Ida was not blessed with children.

To the left is the only known picture of Brokaw, who is pictured to the left of his cousin Gabriel DuVall Brokaw. The pair’s wives are sitting in the rear of the chauffeur-driven vehicle which appears to be a circa 1915 Packard Twin-Six.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -







Norman Newell Hill - History of Knox County, Ohio: Its Past and Present pub 1881

Gordon Eliot White - Kurtis-Kraft: Masterworks of Speed and Style pub 2001

Dan R. Post - Cord, Without Tribute to Tradition: The L-29 Front-drive Legend pub 1974

Michael Lamm - American Originals: The Sports Cars Of Frank Kurtis, Collectible Automobile, October 1999 issue

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