R. G. “Buck” Buchanan, born in 1901 and raised on a cattle ranch in New Mexico, started in the car business in 1918 as a driving instructor in Missoula, teaching new car owners how to drive their purchases. He came to Spokane as a Chevrolet mechanic in 1919. Three years later he became the youngest Chevy dealer in the nation when he opened a sales office in Fairfield, Washington. Later he opened dealerships in Tekoa, St. Maries, Kellogg and Wallace. Buchanan sold those outlets in 1934 and took over a dealership in Yakima. In 1937 he purchased Barton Chevrolet in Spokane and renamed it Buchanan Chevrolet.
On the first day of operations in Spokane, there were two employees, Buchanan’s brother Leonard and a mechanic. Over the next 35 years the business grew to 120 employees with shops and car lots covering multiple downtown blocks. Buchanan, having survived the Depression after so many dealers had folded, became the dean of Spokane car dealers, holding key positions with the national dealer network.
In 1966, Buchanan spent $250,000 to buy the entire south side of Second Avenue from Wall to Howard streets and removed three buildings. The Winthrop Hotel, Spokane Appliance Repair and Adams Leather Co. were demolished to make way for a large used car lot, expanding the dealership’s total area to 200,000 square feet. The new lot made Buchanan the biggest dealership in the region. A small sales office was built on the empty lot.
The demolished buildings aren’t well-remembered. Winthrop Hotel was a residence hotel with 75 rooms above retail spaces at street level. It was called the Ethlin Hotel until the late 1930s.
Buchanan died in 1971, shortly after he celebrated 50 years in the car business. After a few years operated by the Buchanan family, businessman C.I. Paulsen Jr. bought the dealership in 1975. Paulsen was the grandson of August Paulsen, the mining millionaire who built the Paulsen Building.
The high interest rates on car loans and the recession of that era took its toll on the business’ profits. New owners renamed it Freeway Chevrolet in 1981, but shut the business down in August 1982.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.