Motorcar Mecca: The Car History of White Bear Lake

The long history of car sales in White Bear.
The Fournelle Auto Company on Clark Avenue, ca. 1925.

White Bear is known to be the place to find your new car, and Highway 61 has been dubbed the “White Bear auto strip.” Long before Highway 61 even existed in White Bear, Clark Avenue was the place to visit to find your next ride.

Peter Fournelle, early White Bear resident and one-time mayor of the Village of White Bear, originally opened Fournelle’s Auto Livery on Banning Avenue in 1913. Just a few years later, he constructed a substantial garage on an available lot on the west side of Clark Avenue, between Second and Third streets. The garage could hold 30 vehicles and had a repair shop of nearly 1,000 square feet. By the 1920s, Fournelle was selling Studebakers and Overland cars.

In 1927, just to the north of Fournelle’s garage, Joe Boppre built a 41- by 80-foot garage of his own, which was later extended further by his successor, Cleo Smith, who operated Smith Chevrolet on that site. Lou Kosman followed Smith as the proprietor of the Chevrolet dealership.

Fournelle’s original business changed hands several times throughout the late 1920s and 1930s, and in 1945, White Bear Motor Sales took over the original Fournelle garage with Al Podvin at the helm; Podvin had previously established a successful Ford dealership on Fourth Street. In 1956, Podvin leased the Clark Avenue building to Herb Tousley, who opened Herb Tousley Ford on that site.

By the mid-1960s, both enterprises had moved to the newly developing area along Highway 61.

Sara Markoe Hansen is the executive director of the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society. She is one of a number of community representatives sharing history thoughts monthly on the back page of our magazine.