When I started the Down On The Street series, I'd shot a handful of cars and figured I'd be able to do a few dozen more before running out. Sure, I knew the island city of Alameda, California, had plenty of old cars parked on the street, but with a population of just 70,000 on a mere ten square miles of land, how many could there be? Well, it turns out the answer is: Plenty!
Not only have we reached car number 150, I have sufficient photos stockpiled to keep the series going for quite a while. And now I'll answer some of the questions I keep getting from readers about Down On The Street:
Q: Did you really find all these cars parked on the streets of Alameda?
A: Yes, every one of them. Sometimes we'll post photos of street-parked old/cool cars from other places, but they get the Down On The Street Bonus Edition title.
Q: Why don't you obscure the license plates in the photos?
A: These cars are parked on public property, with plates in plain view, which implies that their owners accept that the plate numbers may be seen by the general public. I've considered blurring the plates anyway, but the photos look unpleasant that way; in any case, since the state of California has anti-stalker laws that make it difficult to trace a car's owner from its plate number, it's extremely unlikely that any badness will befall the cars' owners. I don't give out exact locations, and I don't photograph cars in driveways.
Q: Are all these cars daily drivers? Many of them are. Some of them are cars that were just visiting the island (or getting some fresh air after being in a garage), and some of them rarely move from their spots. I'd say two-thirds of these cars are driven at least a few times per week.
Q: Do car owners ever get upset when they see you photographing their cars?
A: Never. I'm careful not to touch the cars or even get too close when photographing them, which is why interior shots are uncommon in this series. I've had quite a few owners come out to see what's going on; when I explain, they're usually very happy to have someone who's willing to show their car to the world. I've heard plenty of good stories from car owners while shooting DOTS photos. In at least two cases, the cars have been owned by Jalopnik readers.
Q: Why does such a small city have so many old cars parked on the street?
Good question, and one to which I have no authoritative answer. I have some theories, which are:
Weather: Alameda is an island in the San Francisco Bay, and the weather is quite mild. It doesn't snow here, and rain is very rare between April and November. This means rust isn't much of a problem. The sun isn't as harsh as in the Southwest, so upholstery and paint hold up pretty well.
Limited Off-Street Parking: Most of present-day Alameda was completely built up by the early 20th century, and the 1906 earthquake- which devastated much of the region- barely touched the island. This means most of the houses were built before cars were beyond the novelty Horseless Carriage stage, so garages aren't as common as in other cities. Many houses built in the 1910s and 1920s have semi-basement garages intended for tall, narrow cars with high clearance that can deal with a 30-degree grade. The water table is so close to the surface here that digging a deep garage requires some serious sump-pump hardware, lest you find your ride in four feet of water.
Hot Rod Tradition: Alameda has had a vibrant culture of hoons hopping up their cars since the days of the Model T, and so you have the old guys passing on the virus to the younger guys. Some of the car clubs on the island have unbroken lineages dating back to the 1920s. And that leads straight to...
The Island That Time Forgot: Alameda is a weird place, and I mean that in the best possible way. It's essentially a David Lynch movie set in a sunny California climate, among Victorian and Craftsman architecture and a small-town mentality that belies its urban grid street pattern and population density (which, in fact, is higher than San Francisco's). The island is full of old people who never cross a bridge, whose original-owner classics never drive faster than 25 and are used only for short trips to Ole's Waffles or Lee Auto Supply. It's also full of young people who start to feel that an old car just, you know, make the most sense. You never know what this town will do to you; Jim Morrison arrived on the island as a wholesome Navy kid, and by the time he departed for LA he'd become a dopefiend weirdo poet.
OK, let's take a look at the cars! They're arranged in chronological order according to manufacture date, from 1937 to 1988; click on the text below a photo to see that vehicle's complete post.