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Durant Mike

A piece of history is burning!

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Its' been a sad couple of days for the Durant Motors Automobile Club as one of the last remaining Durant plants in Elizabeth, New Jersey has been burning for several days and continues to burn. I'm sure it will be totally destroyed and probably torn down later due to it being a hazard. The Elizabeth Plant was originally the Maxwell Motors Plant until 1922/23 then it went into receivership. Up for sale was the plant and a prototype vehicle that had been on the drawing board at Maxwell when they went out of business. Walter P. Chrysler had his eyes on the plant and the prototype to be the first car bearing his name. William C. Durant beat him out of it and outbid his old employee Chrysler for the plant. Durant would manufacture the Star and Durant cars there until 1932 when Durant Motors closed it's doors. The prototype car became the Flint, a car Durant wanted to compete with the Buick. The car that I own rolled off the assembly line at that Elizabeth plant. Hate to see these pieces of automobile history fade away. :(

Link to news article on the fire.

http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local/new_jersey&id=8475793

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Edited by durant28 (see edit history)

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Is this the same building or location were the Duesenberg brothers built aviantion engines during WWI?

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Was the building in current use?

According to other news sources the building was occupied by the Burry Bisquit Company in 1936. Burry later became a subsidiary of Quaker Oats and was a major supplier of Girl Scout Cookies. No article I've seen reveals previous occupants of the building but have mentioned the building had been divided in to multiple sections, without indicating when it ceased to be a baking facility. One of those sections was occupied by a auto body shop and workers in other sections of the structure believe the fire began in that section of the building.

Part of the back wall has fallen away and the building has become basically structurally unsound which is why firefighters are basically in containment mode with no plans to risk anyone's life by entering the building.

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There was a Durant Motors Ltd assembly plant in Buildiong 16 at The Slough Trading Estate, then in Buckinghamshire, a few miles west of London for a few years from around 1922-25. It was then absorbed by Citroen Cars Ltd who had set up in an adjacent building. Citroens then concentrated on their main building and I think Mars (chocolate company) who first landed in 1932 at Slough, took over the building.

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Yes it had been used as a bakery for many years but they ceased operation several years ago. Different parts were subleased to various companies and there were some plans to make apartments or condominiums out of a portion. In 2004 many members of the Durant Motors Automobile Club had their National Meeting in Elizabeth and got a tour of the plant by the baking company, and given some momentos of the car building days. The baking company even allowed them to pull some of the cars inside and take pictures of the assembly line and other areas that had not changed. Many are glad they did today!.

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It's hard to believe that the building inspectors would allow a body shop in the center of such a large building. Not that I am against body shops, (I own one my self) but even fighting a body shop fire in a standing alone building, is one that must be taken seriously.

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It's hard to believe that the building inspectors would allow a body shop in the center of such a large building. Not that I am against body shops, (I own one my self) but even fighting a body shop fire in a standing alone building, is one that must be taken seriously.

Actually from what I have read the presence of the body shop may not have nearly been as bad as another occupant apparently being involved in molding plastic products of some sort or another. I'm candidly surprised there haven't been some major explosions of drums of materials used in those processes. I guess that is why they have been pumping foam into the basement where some of those materials have apparently been stored. I suspect before it's all over a bunch of citations will be issued regardless of how or where the fire first started.

I know for sure no fireman in their right mind would even think about entering a a burning building where no telling how many 55 gallon drums of highly flammable materials are stored.

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Yes, this was the former Duesenberg plant, seen here in an impressive 48-page insert from

Automotive Industries, January 1919, touting many of the company's machine tool suppliers.

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Here are some of its pages of interior images titled with their motto, The Power Of The Hour.

I sent color copies of the complete insert to the ACD Museum, who were unaware of it till then.

It's a pity about the fire, but the factory did have a storied past and a long run.

TG

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Would this Durant have ben built in that factory?

My father was a wheat and sheep farmer in the Western Australian wheatbelt. In 1930 he purchased a new 1930 model Durant tourer. This vehicle had a six cylinder Continental motor and handled the rugged West Australian country roads well.

Of course the impact of the great depression was starting to be felt in this country and this car was destined to be in service for many years.

I have included a photo of the car with my Mother at the steering wheel. This photo would date to about 1938.

By 1940 Australia, along with the rest of the Commonwealth countries was already involved in the hostilities of WW2 and the Government of the day was pushing for Farmers to produce more for the war effort. To this end my father cleared more land and this involved large scale burning off. During this exercise a workman leant a shovel against the car which evidently had embers on it and set the grass near the car on fire, and then the car. The poor old Durant wound up being very severely damaged as can be seen in the second photo.

That photo also shows the mode of transport my parents had to adopt at that time. Note how the Sulky is sporting a T model Ford rear tub and wheels!!!

My father was mechanically minded, as I think most people on the land in those days tended to be and because another car couldn't be purchased he had to repair the Durant. Parts were not available so he had to make do with what was on hand.

The spokes and rear rims were beyond repair so spokes and rims from T Ford wheels ( 30 X 3 1/2 )were fitted onto the Durant hubs. A wooden machinery box was used to make up a wooden tray and a 44 gallon fuel drum was used as the petrol tank. The seat was a rag filled wheat bag.

The Durant was used in this manner until after the war.

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Thanks for the history lesson and the pics, Stuart. That was really interesting.... :)

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Thanks for the catalog shots TG! Guess the Bugatti U16 was built there as well. There are photos of some of the Duesenberg marine engines on The Old Motor web site from a few months ago, huge things.

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Thank you for all the information pertaining to the plant. I had no idea that it had such a rich automotive history. It was never mentioned in any news article that I read in the papers or heard on television.

Yes, that's another piece of history that can't be replaced.

Rog

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50jetback

It's possible that your Durant was made at that plant but more likely it was made at he Canadian Leaside (outside Toronto) plant. Most of the cars exported to Australia were from the Leaside plant. Some of the cars going to South America came from the Elizabeth plant.

I was not aware of the Duesenburg connection to this building.

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There are pictures of this plant with a tall scaffold-type electric sign ( bare bulbs) advertising:

"Chrysler - the six-cylinder motorcar".

I think I remember reading that this was also a Willys plant for a while, in the Teens ?

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When was the last time history, and things that made America great was last mentioned on the news? :mad:

Thank you for all the information pertaining to the plant. I had no idea that it had such a rich automotive history. It was never mentioned in any news article that I read in the papers or heard on television.

Yes, that's another piece of history that can't be replaced.

Rog

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Always sad to see any old building go down like this, especially one with a history and connected to something we care about. The fact it had been saved and re-purposed makes it even more of a loss.

Several years back, after the Dan River Fabrics name had been sold off to the highest bidder and the factory here abandoned, the dye and finishing building where my Dad worked mysteriously caught fire during some "re-purposing" renovations. The then-city manager had long pushed to demolish the complex saying it was unsafe, had no fire sprinklers (it did), yadayadayada.

I always felt like that megalomaniac had something to do with that fire, because less than six months after, the complex was imploded and there was no trace that mill had ever stood. The city would not allow any architectural salvage before the demolition either.

More historic properties were lost under that egotistical fool's tenure than any time before or since, and seems like the Dan River Inc buildings were a particular target. It's like he wanted to eradicate any memory of it.

I sincerely hope the Durant plant fire was accidental.

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Funny, just last weekend, I happened to be looking at TG's posting of this former Duesenberg/Maxwell/Durant/Willys/etcetera plant. America must be littered with these massive, out-of-use manufacturing complexes. They often occupy land that's been sterilized of its real estate value by the post-war flight to the suburbs. They're just too big to tear down economically and, anyway, for what purpose?

It sounds like some of these mega-relics provide economical accommodation for marginal small businesses. However, the risks of working in a century-old structure with no cohesive building code compliance should be considered.

I happened to be in Buffalo NY earlier this fall, to visit the Buffalo Museum of Transportation, aka Pierce-Arrow Museum (lovely, but an ambitious work-in-progress that seems stalled by a lack of funding).

Talk about a city that's a victim of suburban sprawl! Buffalo has a glorious, early-1900's Art-Deco downtown, which was virtually deserted the Saturday afternoon that I passed through. Surrounding that was a ring of... nothing. Most of the high-density housing and industrial development that must have once enveloped the core has been demolished but not replaced. It's like a gravel moat around a dead city.

That's a tough situation to overcome but I suppose all great cities of the world have had their boom and bust cycles. London was essentially abandoned when the Romans downsized their empire. Paris probably wasn't much to look at, before the King Louis clan started its urban beautification projects. You can't - and shouldn't - save everything, just because it's older than you are.

Note the same crenelated pilasters, although with a coat of paint since the Duesy days.

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At least it's not suffering the same fate the once great Packard factory is.

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You can't - and shouldn't - save everything, just because it's older than you are.

Rob is 100% correct, particularly about old industrial and retail buildings. So many of them across the country were barely safe to occupy when originally built and maybe not even then.

We old car enthusiasts seem to have a bit of a penchant for wanting to find some things the way they were when our pride an joys were on the road in daily use. If we just turn the clock back to the 1950s and consider the nature of many motels then, ask yourself if you want to spend a night in one of them today with their often very smallish rooms without the amenities you have become accustomed to with today's lodging. A few of those have been kept as near up to date as their space allows, but they struggle to stay open.

And will you shop in the old central business districts of a typical town of the 1950s? No! No parking except at the curb and heaven forbid one would park and walk several blocks on a shopping trip in hot or cold weather. And again, most of those buildings of the turn of the 20th Century into the 1950s era are now fire traps and often too costly to bring to code for the owner to justify the expense without a very strong rental market, which hasn't existed there for over 40 years. So many such buildings just sit vacant and deteriorating until the roof falls in or a fire takes them out. Unfortunately often strapped for cash cities have to demolish those structures because no responsible owner can be found. Detroit is a perfect example of the latter.

Sad, but reality!

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JIM, I live in a young western city, Edmonton, that's bisected by a deep, winding river valley. The southern part, known as Strathcona, was a separate municipality until 1912 when the cities were amalgamated. The next year, a sharp real estate crash somehow cut off the southside from further investment and redevelopment.

Strathcona's commercial and residential buildings from the 'Teens have largely remained, while Edmonton's downtown was torn down and rebuilt and rebuilt again, leaving relatively little architecture from its first boom era. I'm told that the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are similarly divided.

Now Strathcona's brick- and tin-clad main street, Whyte Avenue, is this city's bustling "hospitality district". There's a youth-oriented bar behind every second storefront. Meanwhile, the second and third storeys of many of these century-old buildings are vacant and some have been so for fifty years.

In their partially-occupied, decaying state, they can be fire traps, and we've lost several old favourites to fires in the last ten years, fortunately without injuries. Thus, even when a local economy is strong and the historic style of old structures is valued, it's very difficult to bring them back to full usage and to ensure a continuing future for them.

This post has had nothing to do with old cars, so I'll compensate by adding a local historic photo. This is my grandfather's one-and-only car, a 1912 Tudhope (a Canadian-built Everett), which he proudly drove for just two years on the bumpy streets of Strathcona.

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