The Hidden Gem: Deer Park Winery & Auto Museum


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A significant part of culture here in the United States revolves around the invention and evolution of the automobile. Whether they represent the brass era, the great classics, fin cars from the fifties or sixties muscle cars, they have all have one thing in common; each generation of vehicles made their mark on society, and there are legions of fans of all ages who relate to them in many ways.

Celebrating what is popularly referred to as rolling sculpture are hundreds of museums located all over the United States. Among those, some are very well known, such as The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, The Petersen in Los Angeles, California or the LeMay in Tacoma, Washington. But while the larger museums garner much of the limelight, living in the shadows are many smaller ones that do not benefit by the same level of publicity and awareness. One great example is the Deer Park Winery and Auto Museum in Escondido, California.

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Above left: Convertibles offered by every manufacturer are on display. Above right: Just one of the interesting displays at the museum. Looks like the dream wall for the ultimate man cave!

Located in the vineyard of the picturesque Deer Park Winery, this wonderful automobile museum was the passion of Robert Knapp who founded it and had a great love of classic American vehicles. Today, his son Chris carries on this proud tradition. The Deer Park Auto Museum is housed in several buildings that are jam packed with beautiful cars, along with memorabilia of all kinds that celebrates Americana from the 1930’s thru the 1960’s. In particular, according to the Deer Park Auto Museum, they have the largest collection of vintage American convertibles in the United States.

The tour of the museum starts in the main building. Greeting you as you enter is a classic 1939 Divco Helm’s Baking Truck. Popular in Los Angeles from the 1940’s thru the 1960’s, it’s certainly not the kind of vehicle you see every day, and is a harbinger of what to expect inside. Because much like the Divco, many of the vehicles in the Deer Park Auto Museum collection are not normal run of the mill cars. And speaking of the collection, this building is jam packed with cars, motorcycles and memorabilia. True to their claim, the first thing you notice in the museum is the predominance of convertibles, which make up the majority of cars in the collection.

Above left: Kitchen appliances galore from several decades can be seen in this display. Above center: Table and cathedral radios in this display are a small sampling of the kind that were commonly found in American homes in an earlier era. Above right: Wall to wall display of television sets. Notice how small the screens are in stark comparison to the big screens we take for granted today. Also, for many years, a television was considered a piece of furniture, and had a prominent place in the living room or parlor.

Above left: There are many Chrysler products on display at the museum. Here’s a factory fresh 1962 Chrysler 300 ready for some top down motoring. Above right: Jet black 1960 Imperial provides a stark contrast to the white Chrysler 300.

Among the great cars in the first building are highly sought after classics, such as a 1931 Chrysler Deluxe 8 Roadster and a 1928 Franklin Boat Tail Roadster along with a 1935 Packard 120, a 1948 Lincoln Continental and a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country, each a convertible and all of them beautiful. Near the back of the building, a trio of Indian motorcycles is displayed next to a rare 1958 King Midget, while other cars, parts and neon signs are displayed in virtually every available inch of floor, wall and ceiling space. Adding interest is memorabilia that is showcased in antique glass cases that crowd the floor.

Exiting the main room takes you into an atrium, where a 1955 Messerschmitt KR200 is the first of many interesting things you will see, including an old fashioned ice cream parlor. A walking path through the vineyard takes you to the next building. Significantly larger than the first, the cars are neatly arranged in long rows, each with more than ample space around them. In fact, there are so many different and interesting cars on display that if there were nothing else in the building, they would be a treat all by themselves. But, there is much more on display in this building in addition to the cars.

Above left: 1928 Franklin Airman boat tail looks like it is straight out of the Great Gatsby. Above right: Attention to detail abounds on the Franklin, like the miniature airplane radiator cap that ties in with the “Airman” model name.

Above left: 1949 Plymouth Special Deluxe looks like a compact when compared to the big Imperial. Above center: Highly sought after 1948 Chrysler Town and Country Convertible has been in the collection for many years, yet looks like new. Above right: Yet another row of gleaming convertibles. Looks like the front line of a dealership from the 1960’s.

The building has a two story high ceiling that provides the necessary clearance for an incredible collection of large neon signs that were rescued from long forgotten dealerships. Most of them were illuminated, their bright colors creating a nostalgic feeling akin to stepping back in time to the 1940’s or ‘50’s when these signs were a common sight at car dealerships in every city and town in the nation.

The next building on the tour returns to a more intimate setting. Entering though a large garage door, the first thing you see is a collection of pure Americana, which lines the walls. Everything from antique televisions, table top and cathedral radios, clocks, kitchen appliances and even sewing machines are displayed in abundance. There were so many of these items that I was reminded of the scene from the movie Avalon of the massive discount department store in Baltimore in the early 1950’s, its long aisles filled with these items back when they were new.

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This stately 1928 Chrysler Deluxe 8 Roadster was a cutting edge car when it was designed and built. A high compression engine and four wheel hydraulic brakes were among its many virtues.

Above left: Another row of drop top beauties illuminated by neon lights. Above center: Crosley manufactured appliances, radios, televisions and even cars, like this Hot Shot roadster. Above right: When you enter and leave the Deer Park Winery and Auto Museum, the first vehicle you see is this original 1939 Divco Helm’s Baking Truck that’s parked at the front door. This truck is a subtle reminder of a different time when home delivery of milk and baked goods was commonplace.

The opposing wall is lined with more vintage cars. At the end of the long aisle, there is a period perfect display that showcases a radio, television, refrigerator and automobile, each of which were manufactured by Crosley, along with advertising promoting these products to consumers. Turning the corner takes you down yet another aisle, with more neatly displayed convertibles representing numerous manufacturers, in an endless array of colors and models. Adding interest are antique gas pumps, dealership promotional materials, and just about anything else you can imagine connected with an age when prosperity in America seemed like it would never end.

There are many other things to see at the Deer Park Winery and Auto Museum. Plan on spending a good portion of a day taking in all of the sights and atmosphere it has to offer. You’ll find that this is one museum that provides a real walk down memory lane.

“West Coast Report, Deer Park Winery & Auto Museum: The Hidden Gem” was originally published in PentaStar Power Magazine in July 2014.

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Larry Weiner

Larry Weiner is the Editor of Pentastar Power magazine, and has worked with Mopar Hall of Fame inductee, Norm Kraus (aka Mr. Norm), the founder of Grand Spaulding Dodge, for nearly 25 years and spearheads the Mr. Norm’s limited edition vehicle and parts program. Larry owns several vintage Mopars, including a one of a kind A-12 inspired 1968 Plymouth B-Body wagon powered by a 440 Six-Pack, and a low mile survivor 1967 Chrysler Town & Country.

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