Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Royal Enfields sold fast in old Miami, ad claims

1947 advertisement from The Miami News newspaper.
More than 1,000 Royal Enfield motorcycles sold in 1947 by a firm in Miami, Florida!

That's the claim in an advertisement in The Miami News newspaper of Dec. 26, 1947. It reads:

"Royal Enfield English built motorcycles, $199. Complete — in Miami Over 1,000 of these excellent machines have been sold by R.S. Evans in the past year! 1600 NE 2nd Ave."

Is that even possible? Could Miami, in 1947, have absorbed so many motorcycles of any make? The population of the entire county of Dade was only 315,000 in 1945. So that would be one Royal Enfield for every 315 men, women and children. All sold within a year!

Perhaps R.S. Evans counted motorcycles it distributed to other dealers in the region or to the rest of the country. Or, maybe the ad just exaggerated its sales success.

According to the ad, all this business went on from 1600 NE Second Ave. Adopting the technique used by blogger Jorge Pullin at his excellent My Royal Enfields blog, let's take a look at the Google street view.

Building at that address now was built in 1950.
Hmmm. At that address today there is a small, modern looking office building with a loading dock and fenced parking area behind it. Property records say it was built in 1950.

But here is another, much older photo to examine, from the book "Miami: The Magic City," by Seth H. Bramson. This 2007 picture book of historical photos has this image, bearing this caption:

The Royal Enfield dealer would be just across the street
from the building at top right with three stories of balconies.
"In the edge of the picture on the right is a Miami trolley, and the Clayton Battery and Engineering Company building is clearly seen right in the center. Behind Clayton is R.S. Evans Reo Cars. The Evans name is still a household Miami name, as his son, L.P., still has several Miami automobile dealerships."

This photo may be from the early 1930s, since Reo was out of the car business after 1936. Miami's trolley cars ended operations in 1940.

If the battery company is the building "clearly seen" at center, then R.S. Evans is one of the buildings partially hidden behind it, farther up the block. This entire side of Second Avenue in the foreground, including the battery company building, is today an unattractive multistory parking garage.

On the right side of the avenue, however, the distinctive four-story building with the three stories of balconies is still present. It is directly opposite 1600 NE Second Ave., the little office building seen in the Google view.

Long building (tinted yellow) would be just beyond the Royal Enfield dealer.
Seen on the left side of the avenue in the old photo is a long two-story building that stretches the entire width of the city block. It is still present and looking its age — according to property records it was built in 1927. It is at 1622 NE Second Ave.

The address we want would be closer to the camera. But maybe the advertisement fudged the address, rounding it off to make the location simpler to remember. If so, it could be that the motorcycles were contained in that long building. At 22,638 square feet (according to property records) it could have held hundreds of them.

The long building as it looks from the front today.
Enfield dealer would have been to the left.
One piece of evidence against this possibility: faintly visible at the top of the long building today is the residual evidence of large letters, reading "(illegible) LAND COMPANY."

Very likely, whatever building R.S. Evans used to sell motorcycles in 1947 is gone.

The name R.S. Evans turns up only once in records I can find. A businessman of that name was posthumously inducted into the Dade County Tennis Hall of Fame in 1988 for his role as a sponsor of top junior tennis players.

The son's L.P. Evans Motors, Inc. is described in corporate records as having started in 1926 — it was ultimately absorbed by AutoNation Inc.

What kinds of Royal Enfield motorcycles was R.S. Evans selling, in 1947? Presumably the $199 price was for the least expensive of them, the two-cycle Flying Flea, and not typical of all models.

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