Sign in to follow this  
Centurion

Historic Buick Dealership -- Tacoma's Mueller-Harkins Buick

Recommended Posts

I had noted in a previous post under the earlier topic -- named "Architecture and Signage, Historic Buick Dealerships" -- that I had stumbled upon a surviving jewel of late-1940's Buick dealership design.

The Tacoma, Washington Buick dealership built a new, downtown structure in 1948 that was probably regarded as "state-of-the-art" for the time. The Buick dealership is long since gone, and Buicks are currently sold in a typical "auto row" dealership on an outlying commercial strip.

I have obtained very little information regarding the dealership. Recently, I've learned from a local Olds enthusiast that his father took him around to dealerships for the new car introductions each fall, and he cited specific memories of standing outside this Buick dealership during the introduction of the 1950 Buicks. He was there with his father as the paper covering the showroom windows was ripped away, revealing -- for the first time -- the spectacular grille/bumper of the 1950 Buick as it rotated on its turntable. I can only imagine how exciting this must have been!

The structure is currently utilized as a vintage car consignment business, and it's great that the building has been preserved for automotive uses. Here's how it looks today:

20348showroomIII-med.jpg

20348showroomVIII-med.jpg

20348showroomX-med.jpg

A local Pontiac friend remembers the dealership from his childhood, and said that the tall, vertical surface said "Buick" in neon lettering. I'm hopeful that I can someday locate some old photographs showing the building with the original Buick dealership signage. Based on the old neon lettering (now removed) that I had seen at a long-time Seattle dealership, I'm guessing that this may have worn the Buick script -- in the '40's style lettering -- in red neon.

I have yet to actually gain access to the structure, since it is not open on Sundays. But I've peered through the showroom windows, and have managed to snap a few photos. The showroom has two, large "bay windows", each of which appears to house the original turntable. You'll note that the offices are situated in a mezzanine, and the showroom is decorated with neon lighting. The colors of red and blue are, of course, associated with Buick signage and advertising of the period.

20348showroomI-med.jpg

20348showroomII-med.jpg

Mr. Earl would enjoy seeing the large, 1954 Buick showroom banner -- touting Buick's Fireball V8 engines -- hanging near the top of the staircase to the mezzanine.

You'll note that the round ceiling designs above the two turntables are encircled with neon tubing.

20348showroomV-med.jpg

This photo shows the Chrysler parked on a portion of one of the turntables.

20348showroomVI-med.jpg

The dealership service areas are located on lower levels, and the first photos clearly show that the structure was built on a hill. I have heard that the original service department has a "control tower", which I hope to someday see.

The structure also has parking on top of the roof, and the shell of a '56 Lincoln convertible sits there. It appears that there was a sort of "control tower" to monitor access to the ramps, but this may have been a later addition. (I've learned subsequently that this was intended to be a restaurant or diner, but it was never used as such.)

20348showroomIX-med.jpg

We know that Buick introduced Dynaflow on the 1948 Roadmaster, and an original 1948 Buick dealership signage catalog shows that dealers could purchase a large neon sign proclaiming "Buick Dynaflow Drive". A reproduction of one of the original signs hangs in the showroom window:

20348showroomIV-med.jpg

20348showroomVII-med.jpg

Now, I can hardly think of a place I'd rather have to fill with vintage Buick cars and automobilia!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Brian,

This post caught my eye again immediately as have previous ones dealing with this topic. Being a student of old car dealer history and the buildings associated with them, I love reading/seeing these type of things. Thanks a bunch for posting the pics. Do you have one big, wide front shot of it? Reason I ask (as you will see from my attached scan) is I wanted to compare this one to the one I'm posting from the book titled, Buick Building Layout Guide, dated 1944. This particular layout was one of the last ones in the book because of its futuristic-looking design for the times. Most of the layouts in the book are more square-ish and conventional in nature. Anyway, here you are!

Steve

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Shart, thanks so much for your comments. When I first saw the structure from a distance, I thought immediately of that futuristic concept that you've posted.

2031944_layout.jpg

There are some important differences. Instead of a single rounded showroom area, this dealership has two rounded areas that appear to be equal in size. If we could look at the showroom area in plan view, it would look something like a capital "B", with the rounded portions of the "B" pointed toward the streetfront. The design features the roof-top parking area and lower-level service area and ramps, much like the concept.

Tom Gibson has sent this next image from the "1948 Planning Automobile Dealer Properties, all General Motors" book. You will see, once again, that several aspects of the design appear in the Mueller Harkins Buick building.

2031948_layout-med.jpg

When possible, I'll try to get back to Tacoma for some more photos of the dealership front. In many respects, the photos here do not do the structure justice. The design really jumped out at me as a "classic" late forties design.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Centurion - Great photos. These belong on the next book on automobile dealerships.

I appreciate the turntable. I remember the Buick dealership on Piedmont in Atlanta. It had a turntable out on the corner. The last time I saw the place a new '82 Riviera convertible was roatating in the sun. Don't know if the turtable or dealership is still there, but your signage & dealership posts belong in some kind of archive. Thanks - Ranchero

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Tacoma Public Library carries a large number of excellent historic photos of the Mueller Harkins dealership.

The images linked here carry the library's large imprint, but each of these photos can be purchased -- without the library's imprint -- directly from the library.

17602.jpg

Date: 05-16-1949

Description: Mueller-Harkins' new building was one of the most modern automobile dealerships in the country. Mueller-Harkins Motor Company has been the authorized Buick distributors in Tacoma since 1916. Anyone interested in a full service automotive center, had to go to Mueller-Harkins Buick Motor Company; they offered all types of services and the fastest, most efficient customer service. View of architectural drawing of the new dealership located on Saint Helens Avenue.

Here's a link, and you can search on Mueller Harkins Buick:

http://search.tacomapubliclibrary.org/images/dt3.asp

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

9174.jpg

Date: 08-25-1950

Description: Mueller-Harkins Motor Company, general view from southwest. Wilsonian Apartments in background at far left of photo. Mueller-Harkins was a Buick dealership owned and operated by Rudolph, John, and Elsie Mueller. As their large sign advertised, new cars could be purchased for $2097 and above and delivered in the Tacoma area. Taxes and license were the buyer's responsibility. Mueller-Harkins also sold quality used cars as well as new models.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

16424.jpg

Date: 12-04-1948

Description: Interior view of the new Mueller-Harkins Motor Company building, the company was having an "Open-House" to celebrate the near completion of the new facilities; people are gathered around the new 1949 Buick automobiles in the Mueller-Harkins new car showroom. Mueller-Harkins Motor Company's new service center is being referred to as "America's Finest Automotive Service Center" (T. Times, 12/3/48, p. 8-9).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

9165.jpg

Date: 12-30-1948

Description: Mueller-Harkins new building was one of the most modern automobile dealerships in the country. Interior view of Mueller-Harkins Buick showroom looking northwest; Madison M. Brager admires 1949 Buick convertible on floor turntable; advertising display explaining "Dynaflow" (automatic) transmission at far right in photo, "Buick 8" neon sign in window at left (TPL 3772) (T. Times, 12/26/48, p. 28).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

9160.jpg

Date: 12-21-1948

Description: The new Mueller-Harkins Buick center provided their customers with all of their automotive needs, the new building was officially opened to the public on December 6, 1948. Interior view of Mueller-Harkins Buick Agency; showroom features 1949 Buick Roadmaster on display, architect's model of building in left foreground. Model still exists inside the building, which now houses USA of Yesteryear Motor Car Company (T. Times, 12/26/48, p. 28).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

9176.jpg

Date: 12-08-1950

Description: A night view of Mueller-Harkins Buick dealership decorated for Christmas. A Buick has been placed on top of the roof of the service marquee with trees and "Make this a Buick Christmas" banner. Glass-topped Texaco gas pumps, a Firestone neon sign, US Royal Master tire banner, and a motor oil display are also shown. The dealership's neon sign advertising Buick shines brightly on the vertical sign.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

9175.jpg

Date: 12-08-1950

Description: A night view through the curved bay windows into the showroom at Mueller-Harkins Buick dealership decorated for Christmas. Two new Buicks are on display. A neon sign promoting "Buick Dynaflow Drive" (automatic transmission) hangs in the showroom window.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

2567.jpg

Date: 06-06-1951

Description: Three mechanics and two Buicks are seen under a neon sign announcing "Buicklubricare" in the service area of Mueller-Harkins dealership.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

9141.jpg

Date: 04-12-1948

Description: Model of new Mueller-Harkins Buick showroom. A view of the architectural model of the new automobile dealership that was being built at Sixth Avenue and Saint Helens Avenue. Toy automobiles, gasoline pumps and people are included to show how the new facility was to be used. This model still exists inside the building on Saint Helens Avenue in Tacoma, which now houses USA of Yesteryear vintage automobile sales (1998).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

9180.jpg

Date: 11-28-1952

Description: The Buick Product School is in session at Mueller-Harkins in the glassed-in round room on their building's top level in November, 1952. Several men learn about the new Buick V8 by watching a demonstration using a partly disassembled motor on an engine stand. Sun Equipment Company's test equipment lines the curved wall.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

16423.jpg

Date: 12-04-1948

Description: December 4, 1948 was the grand opening of the new Mueller-Harkins Motor Company building at 455 Saint Helens Avenue. The Buick dealership, with its modern design and walls of glass, was owned and managed by Rudolph A. and John A. Mueller. Potential customers could easily see the cars on display in the well lit showroom. In 1953 the building was sold to Brus Buick Company, and in 1994 it was purchased by the U.S.A. of Yesterday Motor Car Company.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

9143.jpg

Date: 12/14/1948

Description: Service area at Mueller- Harkins Buick Agency. Elevated " Service Master " command post overlooking the bays. Pneumatic tubes for delivery of service orders, control panels with many lights and switches, digital clock and microphone. Man at controls.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

21750.jpg

Date: 11-28-1951

Description: The Mueller-Harkins Motor Company opened a new accessories store in their Saint Helens Avenue building in late 1951. Sepia photograph shows three men examining products for sale; Firestone tires were prominently featured along with Prestone anti-freeze and seat cover materials. A prudent shopper could purchase tire chains in preparation for icy roads for a cost between $10 and $14. The store even provided a Coca-Cola machine where thirst could be quenched for a mere nickel.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

2555.jpg

Date: 06-06-1951

Description: The men of Mueller-Harkins Buick Customer Relations Department stand by the entrance to the service department. The two men on the left are not identified. The other men stand by plaques with their names, L-R, Phil Triplett, Jesse Hyde, Ed Mottle, John Moon.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

19134.jpg

Date: 05-1-1950

Description: The Mueller-Harkins Buick dealership has added a new used car sales building on Saint Helens next to their large display and service facilities. The used automobiles are nosed towards the street to show passers-by the current inventory. Condon Company, Kay Shinn.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

17123.jpg

Date: 11-02-1948

Description: On-the-spot photographs at new Mueller-Harkins Building, Condon Co., Kay Shinn. An interior view of the collision shop at Mueller-Harkins where a crumpled fender gets a new finish. Several men are at work in the body shop. Parts bins are located along the wall at the left and one of the men has removed a panel or door from an automobile to take out a dent in the metal. The panel is attached to a dolly for ease of movement. (T.Times, 12/26/1948, p.28)

9168.jpg

Date: 02-07-1949

Description: Equipment at Mueller-Harkins, Walker Manufacturing Company, Racine, Wisconsin. Mueller-Harkins Buick Agency, service area. Two late 1940s Buicks are in for servicing. The service bays are outfitted with grease racks, a roll-away lube cart, and overhead hoses for air, water, grease, etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

9167.jpg

Date: 01-28-1948

Description: Mueller-Harkins Buick Agency. The interior of the customer waiting room is shown. A display of "Authorized Assessories" stands along the wall at the left and Coca-Cola and cigarette vending machines stand along two of the other walls. A man is adjusting a sign promoting GMAC Insurance Plans.

9150.jpg

Date: 12-14-1948

Description: The new Mueller-Harkins building was constructed in joint slab construction style and has 30 foot spans; all fixtures are made of aluminum. Interior view of service area at Mueller- Harkins Buick Agency; "Heavy Repair" area for body work, unidentified man is stripping smashed parts off a late 1940s Buick, placing the scrap in a GMC pickup, another mechanic inspects the passenger side of a Buick of similar vintage (T. Times, 12/26/48, p. 28).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

16422.jpg

Date: 12-04-1948

Description: The new full service Buick Center had just opened up in Tacoma, Mueller-Harkins Motor Company was offering their customers a one-stop automotive center. Exterior view of Texaco service station, this service station was part of the new Mueller-Harkins Motor Company facilities; view of four Texaco gas pumps; Firestone tires and automotive supplies in store (T. Times, 12/3/48, p. 8-9).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

18382.jpg

Date: 07-29-1949

Description: Banquet in Army-Navy Room for Buick Motor Company Distributors, Mueller-Harkins, Rudy Mueller. Buick dealers and salesmen of Southwest Washington previewed the new Buick Special at the Mueller-Harkins Motor Company. Afterwards the group met for a luncheon meeting where they were addressed by Buick factory officials. (TNT, 8/5/1949, p.18)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

9147.jpg

Date: 12-14-1948

Description: The new Mueller-Harkins building was one finest and most modern sales and service centers in the United States. Interior view of service area at Mueller- Harkins Buick, elevated "Service Master" command post with customer waiting room below, parts counter, lighted overhead chart of stations/services available, Quaker State clock, two Buick convertibles at stations 17 & 18 (T. Times, 12/26/48, p. 28).

17038.jpg

Date: 12-07-1948

Description: Interior at Mueller-Harkins, new service center. Douglas Fir Plywood Association, Mrs. Link. Mueller-Harkins had installed the newest methods of communicating within their service department. The new facilities for the Buick dealership included a signal-lighting system. An employee in the "Service Master" command post which was elevated over the entrance to the service area would alert staff of the needed servicing for an entering automobile by pressing the on button for the board hanging in the shop. After the automobile had been taken to the proper work area the light was turned off.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

17124.jpg

Date: 11-02-1948

Description: On-the-spot photographs at new Mueller-Harkins Building, Condon Co., Kay Shinn. An interior view of the parts department at Mueller-Harkins. Two men stand at the counter asking for help with parts while two men behind the counter assist them. Two more men are working in the shelving area and several more are seen in the background behind glass windows.

9151.jpg

Date: 12-14-1948

Description: The main showroom at Mueller-Harkins had twin turn tables with windows surrounding the huge display room, two new 1949 Buicks were currently being displayed. Interior view of service area at Mueller-Harkins Buick Agency; painting or detail area, unidentified man inspects a late 1940's Buick Special, another looks on and a third polishes a car in the background; container of "Nason Thinner" on shelf, "Quaker State Motor Oil" on bench (T. Times, 12/26/48, p. 28).

17122.jpg

Date: 11-02-1948

Description: On-the-spot photographs at new Mueller-Harkins Building, Condon Co., Kay Shinn. An interior view of the service department at Mueller-Harkins.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this