The History of the Vandergriff Building
At the center of the redevelopment of Arlington’s downtown, The Historic V is also located at the center of the city’s original boundaries, which includes the land within North, East, South, and West Streets. From the V’s windows, one could wave to Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Sam Rayburn when their motorcades came to Arlington. The Historic V is important to the history of Arlington, Texas and will play a role in the city’s future.
The building that stands today at the corner of Division and Center Streets was built in 1927 and is the oldest commercial structure in Arlington. In the 1920s and 30s, the practice in Arlington was to demolish and then replace commercial buildings that were no longer suited for their original purposes. Such was the case with 100 East Division Street, The Historic V’s oringinal address. When its doors first opened in 1928, 100 E. Division was home to the Thannishch Chevrolet company, a full service car dealership. 100 E. Division took its central position in Arlington history beginning 1937, when W.T. “Hooker” Vandergriff moved his GM dealership to the building and his family to the city.
Earning his nickname from his schoolmates in a history class–Thomas Hooker was a founder of Connecticut–Hooker Vandergriff had long been associated with General Motors. His father, John Thomas Vandergriff, had founded a car dealership in Carrollton in 1927, by coincidence the same year that work on 100 E. Division finsihed. When deciding where to establish his own dealership, Hooker Vandergriff weighed the benefits of Arlington against those of Longview, at the time a growing city on account of the East Texas oil boom. Hooker anticipated that Dallas and Fort Worth, separated though they were, would grow together, and an Arlington location would place amid the future megacity.
“When I was a boy and my father choose to located his first dealership in Arlington,” said Tom Vandergriff, Hooker’s son who would one day take over the business, ” there was only one place to be, and that was on Division Street.” Division Stereet was Highway 80, the major road connection between Dallas and fortWorth. Hooker Vandergriff Chevrolet opened at 100 E. Division in 1937. He began selling Buicks in 1946, around the same time that his son, Tom, joined the family business.
Tom Vandergriff also had an interest in civic affairs. He was President of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, when he heard that General Motors was considering a plant in North Texas. Internally, GM had narrowed its possible locations to Fort Worth or Dallas. Tom Vandergriff advanced the argument that locating the plant in Dallas would draw animosity from Fort Worth, and vice versa; it would be better for GM to choose Arlington as a neutral middle ground. By this point, Tom Vandergriff was in a strong position to be and advocate for Arlington. First he was elected mayor in 1951, defeating incumbent B.C. Barnes. I’d have to say the very seeking of that plant was a major reason why I decided to become mayor, he said to an interviewer some decades later. Second, the Vandergriff dealership at 100 E. Divsion my well have played a role in GM’s decision, too. Third, the success of the hooker Vandergriff dealership, as well as the Vandergirff family’s long-time connections with GM, made a positive difference at a time when personal connections held great sway in business transactions.