Located next to the CVS in Rosemont, the palatial three-story building known as Algar Ferrari, which houses millions of dollars worth of luxury sports cars, may seem a little out of place. From afar, the matte silver paneling of the building sets it apart from pretty much any other structure on the Main Line. And up close, the glowing white interior, punctuated here and there by the colorful aerodynamic grandeur of exotic Italian supercars, seems as incredible as the inside of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
Yet this exotic looking building—only two miles down the road from Haverford—dates to 1887, just three years after the founding of The Haverford School, making it one of the most intriguing, historic structures on the Main Line.
In 1887, Joseph Derham, an Irish immigrant with a talent for carriage building, opened up a carriage works at the intersection of Lancaster Avenue and Haverford Road in Rosemont, the current site of the Algar Ferrari dealership.
Derham’s carriages quickly became well known for their quality, and the shop found a steady clientele in the upper class of the Philadelphia area.
As Americans abandoned carriages for cars at the turn of the twentieth century, Derham improved on his success by adapting to innovation and building automobile bodies. At the time, the chassis of a car was made separately from the body, and the Derham Body Company achieved international renown by designing unique bodies for individual clients as well as mass-produced car bodies for different car companies.
After World War II, as America moved into a new era of transportation, Derham’s work obsolesced and his business stagnated. At the same time, Ferrari, an Italian racing brand that had yet to establish dealerships in America, saw the potential of expanding into the American market.
“Luigi Chinetti was the first person to open a Ferrari dealership in America,” current Algar Sales Manager Mr. Jorge Figueroa said. “He convinced Enzo Ferrari that America would be a fantastic market for the Ferrari sports car.”
Shortly after, in 1964, Al Garthwaite, the former president of Lee Tire Company in Conshohocken, bought the Durham Body Company and turned the space into one of the original Ferrari dealerships in America, renaming the business Algar, short for Al Garthwaite.
Along with selling Ferraris at Algar, Garthwaite also worked with Chinetti to coordinate the demanding task of importing Ferris from Italy to America.
“Mr. Chinetti and Mr. Garthwaite became partners and imported Ferraris for everything east of the Mississippi” Mr. Figueroa said.
At this point, the purpose of the building in Rosemont was no different from when the Durham Body Company occupied the space. The business still provided the wealthy of the Main Line and Philadelphia with well-crafted cars, the only distinction being that the cars sold at Algar were a little less conservative, as they were street versions of one of Europe’s most luxurious racing brands: Ferrari.
The Algar dealership then moved to Paoli because of space limitations in Rosemont. The Rosemont building briefly became a Porsche and Audi dealership, but the building remained a place dedicated to high-quality cars.
“When the lease ran out, Mr. Garthwait wanted to move Algar back to Rosemont,” Mr. Figueroa said. “So in 1988, they moved the Ferrari franchise back.”
When Algar returned to Rosemont, the business, one of the oldest Ferrari dealerships in America, was also located in a building with an important automotive past. This gave Algar a remarkable amount of history for an American dealership.
“Algar is America’s most storied Ferrari dealership,” said Mr. Figueroa. “There’s just a ton of history in this dealership that’s really unique.”
In 1995, Garthwaite sold the dealership to Bob Segal, a young businessman and a racing enthusiast.
“Mr. Segal’s son, Jeff Segal, was his partner in the business. His son actually is a very successful race car driver,” Mr. Figueroa said. “And then, in 2012, Mr. Segal sold the franchise to our current owner, who also owns the Ferrari franchise in Denver.”
Before selling the franchise, the Segals underwent a three-year, seven-million dollar renovation of the space, unveiled in 2011. This renovation gave the dealership a distinct modern design that brought the building into the twenty-first century. Although the grey metal exterior and the clean, white interior of the building is undeniably appealing, the renovation covered up most of the building’s history. The sleek, state-of-the-art showroom is almost unrecognizable from when it was the Derham Body Company, with the only remnant being the original wood ceiling on the third floor of the building.
Although the physical history of the building isn’t visible, the spirit of Algar has remained the same throughout all these years, and the dealership keeps in touch with its rich history.
“We have a file room here with files that go back to the beginning, to the late sixties, early seventies, of every Ferrari that was imported here,” Mr. Figueroa said.
Because of their vast history, Aglar has become one of the most distinguished Ferrari dealerships in the country.
“The service and parts department here is one of the best in the country. We get cars shipped here for service from all over the country,” current Algar Experience Manager Mr. Jonathan Miller said. “We’ve got parts from the sixties and seventies for Ferraris here.”
Today, the Aglar dealership remains a unique Main Line institution, combining a rich history with a high level of prestige to create the perfect setting to house the unparalleled mystique and appeal of Ferrari automobiles.