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Architecture and Signage: Historic Buick Dealerships


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During recent decades, the move to "auto malls" and the trend toward modern, multi-line dealerships has resulted in the closure and demolition of hundreds of old Buick dealerships. The transition to modern dealership structures and uniform signage may be a necessary part of doing business today, but it is sad to me to see this part of auto industry history disappear.

I was reminded today of the great architectural styles of decades past, when a friend of mine sent a link to this image on an old linen postcard. I cannot make out the name of the dealership, nor can I determine the location.

a238.jpg

There is one long-time dealership in my area that has bucked GM's call for uniform signage and removal of its historic signs. I hope to get over there for some photos to post here.

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Brian ~ Although not Buick, we do have here in Cheyenne a Lincoln dealership still operating out of the historic building in downtown. The layout is not dissimilar to your picture, but much more elaborate, being constructed of brick with all of the artistry of the period. It is beautifully maintained and the dealership predates Lincoln, having been an early Ameriacn Underslung dealer. They may have even sold a Buick or two in the early years of the 20th century.

The same family that owns the Lincoln dealership and the building, owned the local Buick dealership until GM did a shuffle last year.

hvs

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Howard, that Lincoln dealership sounds like a real jewel.

Here's another image of an old Buick dealership. This one has '59's in the showroom and was located in Dearborn, Michigan. When I saw this picture, I was immediately reminded of the old Anderson Buick Co. of Boise, Idaho.

During at least the 1940's and 1950's, Buick did issue suggestions (or specifications) for new dealership design, so it is not surprising that some of the dealerships looked similar to one another.

holbrookbui.jpg

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The original post looks like "Barrow and Grace", as best I can make out. I remmeber Roberta had a photo of someplace in NY State with an old Buick sign. I wrote down the name soewhere and now cannot find it. We were thinking of makeing a stop by on the way to Batavia next summer, and pay homage.

John

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When I hired in at Buick,way back in the Fifties,it was at the two Buick factory owned branches in Flint.I spent some time at this one in downtown Flint but mostly at the east side store.Of course this picture was taken long before I was there.You can bareley see some older cars outside the window.These stores lasted until 1973 when the pressure from the independent dealers caused GM to close them. Norb

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Brian ~ Within the next week or so I will try to get dbinger [an active member on the AACA forums] to take a picture of the Dinneen building and post it here. It is probably one of the last of the old time dealership buildings still in daily use, other than some really small dealerships in some backwater towns, and those are fast disappearing. They had no style being little more than repair garages with a large glass front window and a two car showroom.

hvs

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I am an amateur student of old car dealership history and have conducted four tours of car dealers (including current and defunct Buick dealer buildings) in the greater Kansas City metro area in the last 10 years. I also authored a story in the Bugle a number of years ago about a small-town Buick dealer whose family I became acquainted with that operated from 1937-85 in Fayette, MO. In that same Bugle Helen Hutchings did a related story about the various designs of Buick dealers building available from the 30's to the 50's and beyond. I own two hard cover books that are dedicated to the styles that were available and suggested by GM for Buick dealer buildings in the old days. If you want to read the article it was in the Dec 1999 Bugle. Steve #3194 Life

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Steve, thank you for reminding me regarding that past Bugle issue. I do remember this, and will pull mine from the shelf to re-read the articles.

And, yes, that dealership design in your attachment is fantastic. One wonders whether any were actually built in that style.

Would certainly enjoy participating in one of your tours of dealerships in the Kansas City area!

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I made reference above to the old Anderson Buick Co. of Boise, Idaho. The photo above of Holbrook Buick (Dearborn, Michigan) reminded me of Anderson Buick's old facility.

Interestingly, a friend who is parting out a '59 Buick e-mailed me this photo today, showing the car's old dealer nameplate. Click the attachment to see the old Anderson Buick nameplate.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Mr. Earl, thanks for sharing that great photo with us. I love the Buick and GMC Truck vintage neon signage in the showroom window.

My friend, Dean Eldridge, who hopes to host the 2006 '53/'54 Skylark weekend at his home in my area, located and restored one of the large Buick neon signs like the one hanging on the building in the photo. The sign is mounted on the side of one of his garage buildings, and it is truly a spectacular piece.

There is a fellow here in the Puget Sound area who has an automotive business in an old Buick dealership structure. Hanging in the window of the former showroom is an original "LeSabre" neon sign from 1959. (It's been there since '59 and still works.) I would love to pick this up, but the fellow simply refuses to sell it. I probably couldn't afford it anyway!

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Guest imported_MrEarl

Can anyone read what is on the sign on the pedestal on the sidewalk in front of the Buick? I have an old art deco stand like that but the sign is not with it. I have a 24 inch round Buick Valve in Head reproduction sign that I've considered putting on it. (and maybe on the reverse side having "Harley Earl Was Here" painted on it) wink.gif

I've always wanted to go to one of the 53/54 Skylark events.

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I think its says "No Parking, not even Buick's." The reason I say this is because there were little toy signs that said this (I have one). I think they may have been a marketing thing back in those days to attract folks into the showroom by placing one on the sidewalk. Then maybe they gave the prospective Buick buyer that stopped in the showroom the little miniature sign like I have.

Just a guess on my part. I have noted a number of photos from the early 50's that showed Buick and GMC trucks sharing dealer space. This must've been popular for Buick to do especially in smaller towns and near rural areas. If you read one of my earlier posts you'll note that I wrote an article of a rural Missouri Buick dealer that was also a GMC truck dealer. They were in a small town and catered to professional folks nearby with Buick's and farmers with the GMC line of trucks.

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Although I don't have a picture of it, I wanted to tell you all about the old Buick dealership that is for sale in Beaver Fall, PA - my old home town. The building is a great old brick and concrete structure, 3 stories and basement, with an elevator to transport the cars to the upper floors and basement. The main floor has a great mezzanine with fancy railing overlooking the showroom floor. The dealership started out as the Thomas F. DaQuila and Sons Buick and Studebaker dealership sometime in the late 20's or early 30's. It changed hands in 1976 and became Bob Williams Buick which closed down in the early 90's. The building has recently been a Rent-a-Center but is now closed and up for sale. When I win the big lottery tonight, I will buy it to store my collection of Buicks that will grow as a result of the winnings!!! grin.gif

This building has a lot of memories for me as it was next to the barber shop I went to as a kid and just a block away from my granddad and dads mens and womens clothing store. On Saturdays I would ride into town with dad to his store, walk up to the barber shop, get my buzz cut, then stop in and drool over the new Buicks in the show room. The dealership is where my granddad and dad always purchased their Buicks. I bought my first 2 cars there as well. We were a Buick family through and through. When the DaQuila dealership was selling out in 76, they knew I loved old Buicks and wanted to know if I would like to have all their old shop manuals. Would I???? Before they had a chance to change thier minds I hurried on down and became the proud owner of approx 65 shop manuals starting in the 40's through the 60's. I sold a lot of them through the Bugle back then and finance the purchase of a 48 Super. If I can find a picture of the building I'll post one here. Otherwise you'll have to wait until after I restore it with my lottery winnings. grin.gif

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Tom, thanks for sharing those great memories. I have to agree that an old Buick dealership structure like you've described would be ideal for storing our old Buicks and displaying our memorabilia!

I'm wanting to go dig out an old photograph of my hometown Buick dealership and obtain a scan of the image so that I can post it here.

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The dealership pictured on the postcard is Barrow-Grace Buick in Wichita Falls Texas. This happens to be the dealership that sold my '54 Skylark new, and I frequently search the internet in an effort to find further info on the dealer. I do know the dealership no longer existed in 1955. I'm looking for an original of this postcard, in case anyone has seen one. Thanks, Centurion, for sharing this scan. By the way, for those who expressed an interest in the '53-'54 Skylark Club meets, my wife and I are hosting the 2005 meet in Middletown, Ohio August 17-21.

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Ron Car 9, welcome to the Buick Club Forum! I appreciate learning the location of that great vintage dealership, and we would, of course, love to hear all about your '54 Skylark and its history.

Norb, thanks for that newspaper article with the great photo. Does the structure still exist?

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<span style="font-weight: bold">(Looks like the photo links to the Smithsonian's website are not working. If they are not restored, I will edit the post to eliminate the photos.)</span>

While waiting in the doctor's office yesterday, I picked up the October, 2003 issue of the Smithsonian magazine. One article reminded me of the Museum of American History's exhibit called "America on the Move". Here's an excerpt from the magazine, as well as a few images from the Smithsonian's website:

"The show's 15 vignettes highlight the changing history of transportation, including the rise of the suburban commercial strip -- a shift spurred by postwar America's increased mobility -- and the urban sprawl that accompanied it. To illustrate these changes, the curators chose the Breslin & Wallace Buick dealership in Portland, Oregon, which in 1949 moved from downtown to an outlying northeast neighborhood. In the tableau, the strip is alive with cars and commerce: a teenage boy peers into the showroom, his motor scooter parked on the sidewalk, and a husband and his expectant wife admire a black shiny 1950 Buick Super sedan. 'Postwar America was defined by the baby boom, the suburbs, the automobile and the consumer economy,' says Lubar [the curator]. 'A family buying a car in a suburban showroom seemed the perfect place to tell that story.'

"Fifty years later, the dealership still sports its mid-century look, which, along with original blueprints, old advertisements and photographs, made it easy for museum staff members to replicate. They even dug up a period-perfect sales desk from a staff member's office. But when Lubar asked dealership owner Joe Breslin to donate some chairs, he hesitated. The chairs were still in use -- in Breslin's office -- and matched the woodwork and decor."

Here are some images from the Smithsonian's website:

242.jpg

243.jpg

375.jpg

The Buick itself is part of the Smithsonian's collection, and the website says:

"Offering luxury and power at an affordable price, Buick made a strong appeal to middle-class Americans with its Super and Special models. By 1954 Buick was one of the three best-selling cars in America, along with Chevrolet and Ford."

It's been a few years since I've been to Wallace Buick. I remember checking out the new 1970 Wildcats there with Mom & Dad, and it was in Wallace's showroom window that I experienced my first breathtaking view of the 1971 Riviera. Later, my sister purchased a new Buick at Wallace in the mid-'70's. Seeing these photos and remembering the dealership design makes me want to return for a visit.

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Today,s Flint paper announced a buyer for the Buick main office building without giving any details.It,s a beautiful design,all marble & granite,with a big modern auditorium .I have seen the big executive offices on the third floor.On the second floor with the big windows is the cafeteria where the food was quite resonable.Escalators,of course.This picture I took last summer.Not a dealer building but an important part of Buick.It,s been empty for a year or two.

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Norb, please keep us posted on further developments with the former Buick administration building. I hope that the future occupant will maintain the historical sign regarding the formation of Buick Motor Company.

I had some wild hopes that the BCA Foundation or the new Buick Archives group or the Sloan Museum could buy and preserve this piece of Buick history in Flint. Just think what could be done with this building to create a larger Buick Gallery & Research Center. But I know that my hopes in this regard were not realistic. And it seems unlikely that a new "Buick City" will ever be erected on any of the surrounding property.

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I'm not certain of the extent to which this art print was patterned after an actual Buick dealership, but my understanding is that the artist, Arlen Olson, was influenced by a Buick dealer that he remembered. The signage depicted on the print seems quite accurate.

I have this particular piece, and it's a far nicer item of Buick art than the scan indicates. A search of Arlen Olson on the Internet yields several sources for this print, The Roadmaster Ride:

Roadmaster_Ride.jpg

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  • 7 months later...

My employer is in the process of re-locating its operations from Everett, Washington to Tacoma, Washington as a result of the Port of Everett's decision to kick out its long-term industrial tenants and build condominiums and restaurants instead. So, I've recently moved my family from the Everett area to Puyallup, located near Tacoma.

Tacoma has a long-term reputation as the "armpit of Washington", due principally to the pollution created years ago by the now-closed smelter and the troublesome area known as the "Hilltop" neighborhood. The city has turned the corner, however, and seems to be on the rise. Among its attributes is the LeMay Automobile Collection, which is regarded as the nation's largest and is headed within the next few years to a fantastic new facility. ( http://www.lemaymuseum.org/about.php )

The city also boasts many architectural treasures from its past, and my favorite is the downtown structure built in 1948 as a new Buick dealer. While not quite as fanciful as the 1944 vision posted above by Shart last November, this dealership structure closely resembles some of the other Buick-approved designs I've seen from the late 1940's.

I visited for the first time yesterday afternoon. The Buick agency left the structure many years ago, and it's now a collector car consignment facility. The Buick agency signage is, of course, mostly gone, but I knew I had arrived at the right place when I saw the beautiful, period-correct neon sign in the showroom window, proclaiming "BUICK DYNAFLOW DRIVE". The facility was closed, but Mr. Earl would have loved the 1954 Buick poster hanging in the rear of the showroom.

My '59 Buick looked great parked out front, but I failed to bring a camera. I'll return soon -- camera in hand -- to record this old Buick dealership that ranks as one of the greatest dealership structures I've ever seen.

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Guest imported_MrEarl

Boy I tell ya. You can tell somebody is a BuickMan when as soon as they move into a town they instantly begin looking not for schools, churches, parks, or movie houses but rather for Buick dealerships, and not even current ones but those that have been gone for years. smirk.gif

I salute ya Brian. Can't wait to see pictures.

And if you can make your way to the back of the show room whilst no one is looking and tuck that poster in yor shirt, you got a buyer for it right here. And if you get caught maybe you'll get escorted to another architectural treasure, the Puyallup jail house. grin.gif

Hope you and your family enjoy your new home, town and work place. Are you still in the same BCA region. Oh, and how many cars does the new garage accomodate wink.gif

Good luck,

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Mr. Earl, I've got to admit that I've also checked out Puyallup's current Buick dealer -- and was pleased to see a spectacular 1957 Roadmaster 75 4-door Riviera on the showroom floor. The dealership evidently owns this Buick, and that's an encouraging sign.

My new garage holds three cars, but it's significantly smaller than the old one, and I will require several more days of unpacking before the garage can accommodate more than one car. The positive aspect of the garage is that it has all been beautifully sheetrocked and has great vaulted ceilings, so it'll be a fun place to display the Buick memorabilia.

I've now moved south of Seattle, so am technically in the territory of the Puget Sound Chapter, which I plan to join. I will, however, plan to retain my membership in the North Cascade Chapter, of which I was one of the founding members back in 1987, and will, to the extent possible, continue to participate in the tours and shows of the North Cascade Chapter. It's also the North Cascade Chapter that will host the 2007 National Meet in Seattle, and I want to be one of the folks who welcomes you and Rita (and Buttercup?) to the meet!

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This is fascinating stuff... I love the architecture of those old garages, particularly some of the "art deco" styles that seemed to re-emerge in the 50's. Sandra and I are holidaying in Orlando in a few weeks, and hope to see some of the older style buildings while we are there (I know Orlando may not be the best place for this, but we plan on travelling around while we're there!)

I'd like to find some info on the dealer my convertible came from. Any ideas on good reference material for this? The dealer was MUTI-Buick in Passiac, and it doesn't seem to be still around (no suprises there, I guess)

Mr Earl, hope you get to Seattle also. If you can't drive Buttercup there, you can hang around with a few crazeeee europeans for a while grin.gif

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is a wonderful thread !! For those of you that may not know me by my user ID, let me tell you that I remember digging through the atics of those old Buick stores for NOS parts during the 80's. These buildings were designed with a purpose and to lure customers back in on a weekly basis, and I believe that those sevice centers and quaint showrooms along with those Fireball V-8, Lubricare and Dynaflow signs were what brought people back. Excitement. I wish I only had the sense to bring a camera with on those trips...DUH !!

I remember one Buick dealer here in Chicago, Logan Square Buick, that had four floors of service etc. and an elevator to take your car up for service. Oh, and I remember the monthly ? trips with my uncle. Always went home with a new Buick dealer promotional model. Wonder if those models are what made me so loyal to Buick ??

BTW, we should all thank Buick architects for those HUGE trussed attics. Without them, we may never have had the NOS parts we've had over the years to restore old Buicks. Do you think that was part of the plan as well ?? lol.

Rich Romanowski

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  • 5 weeks later...

Here's an unusual picture (see attachment) titled "automobiles parked on roof of Buick Sales and Service building" from December 1925. It's from the Library of Congress collection, accessible from http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/browse/. Enter "Buick" in the search field. You shouldn't use the images without permission, but how is anyone to know about this marvelous collection unless we get the word out? You can also download higher-res images. Can anyone tell what city this is in?

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Mr. Earl. Those are great pictures. It even looks like Brian standing next to the '59 Flattop wink.gif

The banner on the building is identical to one on Ebay a year or so ago. Sold for something close to $400 which I thought was too much. Now I'm kicking myself.

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