J.A. Cooley Museum

Sep 13 (Tue)     J.A. Cooley Museum
Sep 15 (Thu)     4233 Park Blvd., San Diego, CA 92103
                            (619) 296-3112
                            Owner/Curator: Jim Cooley
                            Cost $4
            Accessible: Yes

Description: The J.A. Cooley Museum is a great place to visit if you like gadgets, cars, or historical pieces.  The Museum is located on the corner of Park and El Cajon Boulevards in North Park, one of the older communities of San Diego. The Museum is a showcase of all things vintage.  The approximately 10,000 square foot space, much of it with worn wood floors, is filled with displays of artificacts that showcase the history of technology from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.  The antique collections include model trains, cast iron toys, spittoons, tools, cuckoo clocks, license plates, World War I posters, phonographs, typewriters, cameras, and musical instruments. Their car collection is San Diego’s best collection of 100-year-old vehicles, including cars from 1886 through 1933.  The majority of these cars are unrestored and chances are you won’t see them anywhere else.  Some are the oldest models remaining in existence.  Jim Cooley, the curator, owner and collector, stocks his collections with finds from his travels and with the help of visitors who donated or traded with him. A third-generation San Diegan, Jim grew up during the time when auto travel was a real adventure. Visitors are treated to a personal tour by Jim.

Directions:  From CA-163, take the Washington St. exit and follow it east.  Turn right on Lincoln Avenue, then left on Park Blvd.  The destination is on the right at 4233 Park Blvd. 
Parking: If you have a handicap placard for parking, you may park in a metered parking space in front of the museum free of charge.  For regular parking, you may park in the metered parking, but will have to pay the meter.  According to the museum, other free parking is available at a library on Howard Avenue about one block south of the museum.

J A Cooley Museum

The J.A. Cooley Museum, located in North Park, is a collection of cars and other antiques including cast iron toys, spittoons, tools, cuckoo clocks, license plates, World War I posters, phonographs and cameras. You will also see a shop of rails called Frank the Trainman, with a room stacked with Lionel model trains.  

Your tour guide will be none other than James (J. A.) Cooley.  Cooley is a third-generation San Diegan, with a wide array of interests.  He has been a gatherer much of his life.  Although there is an

James (Jim) Cooley
assortment of antiques, it is the automotive history that will impress you.  Cooley says that the Smithsonian Institution has looked at his collection of cars, and have said it is possibly the best group of early automobiles in the United States.  (Maynard, 2013)

Cooley began to collect cars early on, when he owned a business and would use proceeds to spend on cars.  When the business went into debt, Cooley kept the cars and went to Reno to work for Bill Harrah and his famous car collection.  As his financial status improved, he purchased more cars.  The cars were purchases of a couple of thousand dollars at a time.  Some of the cars, if placed in an auction, would probably go for millions.  He occasionally gets calls from film studios to use his cars.  The 1914 Renault was used in the film, “Titanic”.  (McDonald, 2012)

Of the cars on display, 17 are over 100 years.  The oldest is an 1885 Benz Model 1, and the most recent an autonomous driving Buick from 1994.  Cooley can describe the local history of many of the cars.  For example, you will see a 1910 Hunt special which is one of one built in National City for $16,000 (which is pretty expensive in 1910 figures).  Some of the cars in the museum are the oldest models remaining in existence, including the 1907 International (Harvester) which featured a removable back seat so farmers could haul hay, and a massive 1918 Chevrolet Model F-40, built to compete with Buick and Cadillac and acknowledged by Chevrolet as the oldest sedan in the world.

The newest car, the Buick XP 2000 is a concept car.  It represents the future of the automobile with capabilities for video conferencing, hands-off driving, and speeds up to 210 mph.  There is a video featuring this car at the museum.  

Make sure to look for the collection of license plates.  The museum features a complete collection of California produced plates from 1914 through 1991.  

license plate collection

While you are at the museum, you might consider picking up the book written by Cooley, “The Automotive Collection of the J.A. Cooley Museum,” available for $20.  It provides lots of pictures, as well as history about old San Diego.  (J. A. Cooley Museum, 2011)

  1885 Benz Model 1 (Karl Benz, 2010)

Karl Benz (1844-1929) was a German engineer and automobile pioneer.  Benz was a key force in automobile innovation, owning the patent for the two-stroke engine, the speed regulation system, the ignition using white power sparks with battery, the spark plug, the carburetor, the clutch, the gear shift and the water radiator.  His Benz Model 1 is regarded as the first automobile.  It was a “horseless carriage”, adapted from a tricycle design and using a new engine technology.  The vehicle featured wire wheels powered by a four-stroke engine, which was mounted between the rear wheels and equipped with an advanced coil ignition.  The engine was cooled with an evaporative system rather than a radiator.  Power from the engine was transmitted to the wheels by means of two roller chains to the rear axle.  The patent that he received for this vehicle was the for the first “automobile fueled by gas”.  

Benz replica

1904 Cadillac Model B (Cadillac Model B, 2008)

In 1904, Cadillac offered two models of cars, the Model A and the Model B.  The Model B was the same as Model A except the chassis had a pressed steel frame and axles.  Cranking was only on the left side, but a decompression device was provided to facilitate cranking.  A safety device was introduced to prevent the crank from being inserted with the spark control lever was in the advanced position.  A joint in body at dash allowed the body to be slid off without lifting.  A surrey body style was added with a side entrance detachable tonneau (back seats).  The delivery top was no longer detachable.  The weigh decreased by as much as 70 pounds, and the price increased $50, with costs ranging from $800 (2 seats) to $900 (4 seats, removable back seats).  


Cadillac Model B

1910 Hunt Special (1910 Hunt Special, 2010)

William and Clarence Hunt were machinists in National City.  They were also the first automobile dealers in town, beginning in 1904 after a visit from a representative of Ford Motor Company.  In the two years following, they sold only 1 car, but created a lively repair business.  To stay afloat, they also hired themselves out as chauffeur/mechanics for special trips.  One of their jobs introduced them to Arnie Babcock, son of Elisha Babcock who built Hotel del Coronado. Babcock had tuberculosis, and his many trips from San Diego to Ensenada for doctor’s appointments were taking a toll on his automobiles. Babcock commissioned the building of a car that could perform over the tough stretches of road.  It was called the Hunt Special and nicknamed ‘Alkali Ike’.  It had a powerful engine, a double chain drive, a 60-inch tread (which was the width of the ruts in the roads) and an 18-inch center clearance.  Unfortunately, Clarence Hunt was killed before it was finished, and Babcock died before he could ride in the car.  William Hunt, however, lived a long life, dying in National City in 1974 at the age of 97.  

1910 Hunt Special with J A Cooley

Buick XP2000 Concept Car (Rosa, February)

The Buick XP2000, built in 1995, was a concept car with an eye on the future.  It featured a network of advanced computers which tailored the car to the needs and desires of the individual drive, and allowed it to use the Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems planned for the future.  Interstate 15 is one of those highway systems, which have wires or sensors in roadway lanes allowing automobiles to navigate themselves.  

It also featured advancements in Global Positioning Satellite navigation along with huge budgetary problems.  It also contained some of the following features, which were revolutionary at the time, but are either available now, or will be available soon. They include:

·        A remote keyless fob that can adjust the car seats, steering column, mirrors, climate control, entertainment and even driving response to a single specific driver.

·        A “smart card” set up where a credit card can be inserted into the instrument panel, allowing the driver to automatically charge tolls, fuel, food and other services.  It can also contain personal information such as contact numbers and medical data.  It was even able to call the driver’s personal physician in the event of a serious accident.  

·        A “head up” display which can be adapted for use with a phone or personal computer.  It would display a map, and direction on the map, along with route names and distance to destination information.  It also indicated the colors of approaching traffic lights and could warn of emergency vehicles.  Of course, many of these features were dependent on infrastructure that did not exist and may not exist now.

·        Advanced safety features, from eight air bags to a front and rear detection system for obstacles near the path of the car when moving.

·        An adaptive cruise control system which could calculate the distance to the vehicle in front and allow the driver to adjust the cruise control to maintain a set distance.  It would also alert the drive of any sudden vehicle speed changes ahead of it.

Twenty years later, we can see that many of these concepts have become reality, and that this car positively affected the shape and functionality of autos in the present day.  


Buick XP 2000 Concept Car

Works Cited

1910 Hunt Special. (2010, June 8). Retrieved from conceptcarz.com: http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z7202/Hunt-Special.aspx

Cadillac Model B. (2008, February 4). Retrieved from motorera.com: http://www.motorera.com/cadillac/cad1900/cad04s.htm

J. A. Cooley Museum. (2011, May 3). Retrieved from gothere.com: http://gothere.com/mg-world/Museums/cooley.htm

Karl Benz. (2010, August 1). Retrieved from karlbenz.com: http://www.karlbenz.com/

Maynard, M. (2013, February 5). High-wheelers, history at J.A. Cooley Museum. Retrieved from SanDiegoUnionTribune.com: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2013/feb/05/_A-JACooleyMuseum/

McDonald, J. (2012, February 17). Cooley Museum in University Heights hosts ‘the development of the automobile’. Retrieved from sduptownnews.com: http://sduptownnews.com/cooley-museum-in-university-heights-hosts-the-development-of-the-automobile/

Rosa, M. (February, 1 2013). 1995 Buick XP2000 Concept. Retrieved from autosofinterest.com: http://autosofinterest.com/2013/02/01/1995-buick-xp2000-concept/2/



Mary Burns,
Sep 3, 2016, 2:26 PM