MINDEN - A newspaper advertisement for the C.O.D. Garage might read: "Wanted - interested party to lease historic automobile dealership and service center, while preserving its character."
For the first time in 93 years, the 22,500-square-foot structure sits empty in downtown Minden. and the owners want to find an appropriate business to take over.
"I've had a lot of people look, but nobody's made an offer yet," said Robb Hellwinkel, grandson of Fred Hellwinkel, who worked at the garage and later took over its ownership.
Fred was a mechanic at the garage when it opened in 1912, became a full partner in 1919, and took over ownership in 1938, when his partner, Clarence Oliver Dangberg, died.
Dangberg's initials, C.O.D., provided the name for the company.
Fred's sons Don and Danny Hellwinkel joined the firm after serving in World War II. In 1963, AMC Jeep joined their line of automobiles. The company dealt mainly in Buick and Chevrolet, but also sold Dodge cars and Lauson tractors. It was also a Goodyear dealer and offered AAA towing service.
The V & T Railroad delivered automobiles to the garage until 1950.
Fred, known to the locals as "Brick," was one of the organizers of the local fire department. He died in 1964, and according to Wynne M. Maule's book "Minden, Nevada: The Story of a Unique Town 1906-1992," during his funeral, a sign was hung over the garage that read "Brick's Gone."
"My husband and his brother, Dan, assumed the dealership," said Marlena Hellwinkel, Robb's mother. "Robb joined the firm in 1988, in the sales department."
The company had earned the distinction of being "the oldest continuously family-owned auto dealership in the state of Nevada."
In 2002, when Dan Hellwinkel died, the family continued to run the business until Dec. 18, 2003, when it sold the dealership to Carson Valley Chevrolet Buick and leased the building to the company to use as a service center.
"It was just time to move on," said Marlena.
The first week of this month, the dealership opened its new service center just across Highway 395, and the brick building became available for lease.
The building, which runs almost the entire block from the corner of Esmeralda Avenue and Highway 395, has had two additions. The inside brick wall of the original C.O.D. Garage that faces the highway still displays the name of the business on a painted sign. The business office and car-washing area along Esmeralda were added in 1917. Local contractors Jensen and Dressler constructed another addition on the Esmeralda side in 1927. The building next door, Minden Dry Goods, was purchased by C.O.D. Garage in 1975, and became the parts department.
The original signs and woodwork remain throughout the building.
"We'd like to keep the brick look and the wooden beams," said Marlena.
The garage holds many memories for her.
"I can remember a lot of late nights when my husband would be out towing," said Marlena, who has been married to Don for 51 years. "He would come home with cold feet."
The garage became a set for the 1989 film "The Wizard," starring Fred Savage. It also served as a backdrop during a Porsche cars photo shoot.
Recently, Robb and Marlena traveled to Boise, Idaho, which has a preserved downtown area, to get ideas for what they could do with the almost-century-old building. "We want to keep in line with Minden's Plan for Prosperity," said Marlena.
In spite of its age, the brick building is fully intact and ready for business, according to Robb.
Anyone interested in leasing the C.O.D. Garage may call Jim Nickerson at Century 21 Realty at (775) 782-7111.