3910 Wilson Blvd.
Date: Built 1948
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places, July 5, 2003
Historic Resources Inventory Ranking: Notable
Current Use of Property: Health club
When it was built in 1948, Al’s Motors housed an automobile showroom and a service garage that was promoted as a modem scientific auto lab. Prominently located at the major transportation crossroads of Ballston, Al’s Motors was owned and operated by Al and Bertha Wasserman, who ventured into the automobile business in the early 1920s. It was the oldest Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Northern Virginia at the time it closed in April 2001.
Designed in the Streamline Moderne style popular between 1930 and 1955, Al’s Motor’s is one of the most architecturally significant commercial buildings in Ballston. This architectural style demonstrated a technique known as streamlining, transferring the slick skin surfaces, rounded comers, and sensation of movement from automobiles and other transportation machines to the roadside buildings that served them.
This high-style Streamline Moderne automobile dealership with service garage was designed by architect J. Raymond Mims and built in 1948 by the firm of Roystone, Grimm and Sarnmons. The well-executed details of Al’s Motors, with its rounded glass curtain walls and metal cornice, glass block sidelights and transom, and horizontal string courses and banding, make the building an excellent example of Streamline Modeme architecture. The level of stylistic ornamentation and materials presented on each of the elevations takes advantage of the property’s comer location.
A one-story addition was built in 1968 and replaced in 2001. The illuminated “Al’s Motor’s” sign centered over the entrance was replaced with an illuminated “Gold’s Gym” sign.
Al and Bertha Wasserman
Owners Al and Bertha Wasserman started in the automobile industry in the early 1920s with the purchase of a gasoline station at 322 West Wilson Boulevard in Arlington. In 1929, the Wassermans arranged to sell Chryslers and Plymouths through local Washington, D.C., distributor H.B. Leary, Jr. & Brothers. Following Al Wasserman’s death in 1964 at the age of 64 and Bertha Wasserman’s death in 1985, Al’s Motors continued to be owned and operated by the family until April 17, 2001, when it was sold to Health Club Investors, LLC.
J. Raymond Mims (Architect)
Mr. Mims designed a variety of buildings between 1913 and 1955. These included private residences, churches, schools and commercial projects. As a partner in Mims, Speake & Co., Architects and Contractors, he worked on commissions such as the 1914 Rappahannock National Bank office building in Washington, D.C., a high school and the 1915 Christ Episcopal Church in Luray, Virginia. Al’s Motors was not his first Streamline Modeme-style building. He also designed the Sligo Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, which was completed in 1944.