Dayton: Looking Back….

13 Jan

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Somehow we manage to find a little of Detroit wherever we go. We are in Dayton Ohio at America’s Packard Museum, also known as The Citizens Motorcar Company. This is the world’s only restored Packard dealership operating as a museum and the only full-time museum dedicated exclusively to the Packard Motorcar Company, its products and philosophies. The museum is housed in an original dealership built in 1917, there are over 50 automobiles on display throughout the Art Deco showroom, service department and pavilion. Packard was an American luxury automobile, the first was built in 1899, the last in 1958. In 1903 the legendary 3,500,000 sq. ft. Packard Plant built on over 40 acres on E. Grand Boulevard in Detroit opened, designed by Albert Kahn (who else), it was considered the most modern auto manufacturing plant in the world; skilled craftsmen practiced over 80 trades in the building. Today the long abandoned plant is owned by Fernando Palazuelo, developer and CEO of Arte Express, he has big plans for revitalizing the building, check out the website for more information on The Packard Plant Project.

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We park on the street in front of the museum building, inside the showroom we purchase tickets from a woman who then tells us a little about what we’re going to see. The cars in our immediate vicinity are magnificent! There’s a 1932 Packard Twin Six convertible with coachwork by Walter M Murphy, so elegant in cream with red accents and black running boards–this one was built for Michigan’s own Gar Wood. A black beauty with a boattail is a 1936 Fernandez Darrin Speedster, notice the single step below the door in place of running boards. It hits us that there are no ropes around the cars, you can walk right up, look in the windows, admire them up-close. There’s a gorgeous tan and chocolate-colored model by the front window and another convertible in deep yellow; each is unique and has its own hood ornament selected by the original owner. In addition to automobiles the showroom has neon signs, vintage photographs hang on walls, glass showcases contain Packard artifacts, there are still salesmen desks and customer seating.

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Back in the Service area the parts counter still stands, shelves hold original Packard replacement parts. Antique diagnostic equipment, vintage pedal cars and engines share the space with additional Packards in two-tone green, burgundy, black, silver and red. There are hard-tops, convertibles, seats are leather, dashboards, grills and fenders are highly stylized.  Between 1924-1930 Packard was the top-selling luxury brand of automobiles, in 1928 the company grossed $21,889,000–wow! Packard introduced the first modern steering wheel, they were first to produce a 12 cylinder engine, they made the first passenger car with air-conditioning; their tagline was “ask the man who owns one”. At a time when a Oldsmobile Runabout cost $650, a Packard started at $2,600. At one point they had markets in 61 countries, in 1931 Japan’s royal family owned 10 Packards.

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The next building holds even more cars, the Packard library, filled with manuals, catalogs and advertisements and the large stone piece that says “Packard 1907” from the plant here in Detroit. Walls are covered with photos and a historical timeline of the company. The Gray Wolf, one of the most famous cars of early racing, attracts a crowd. Engineered and driven by Charles Schmidt in 1904, at a cost of $10,000, the speedster set two land speed records at Ormond Beach FL. There are Caribbean models from the 50’s, I love the combination of white, pink and black, a Woody is packed for a roadtrip, a couple of Studebaker’s join the mix. We check out an old race car, a 1948 Henney Landau hearse, a gorgeous Art Deco model and more. There are aircraft engines, a military vehicle, an antique gas pump and scale models…so much to look at, so little time.

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Our next stop is Woodland Cemetery, this is where Dayton’s aviation heroes, inventors and barons of business are laid to rest. Opened in 1843, this is one of the oldest ‘garden’ cemeteries in the country, it’s also recognized as one of the areas finest arboretums—many of its trees are more than a century old. There are 200 acres of rolling hills, a Romanesque gateway, chapel and office were completed in 1889. We are here to visit the graves of the Fathers of Modern Aviation, Wilbur and Orville Wright. The brothers successfully achieved the first powered, sustained and controlled airplane flight on December 17, 1903. They subsequently became successful businessmen filling contracts for airplanes in Europe and the United States. Wilbur died in 1912 at the age of 45 of typhoid fever, Orville sold the company in 1915.

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We drive down narrow lanes past beautiful monuments belonging to families named Bader, Reibold and Willoughby. We pass Greek Revival mausoleums, obelisks, rugged boulders, bronze statues of men, stone angels and Art Nouveau  gravestones. The road climbs to Lookout Point, the highest point in Dayton, we stare out over the city, Lookout Tower provides a spectacular view. At last we reach the Wright gravesite, a simple gravestone is engraved with the Wright family name. There Wilbur, Katharine and Orville rest side by side, brick pavers surround the site, a series of flagpoles is the only thing that makes this particular spot stand out from the rest. We note the same names we have seen elsewhere in the city: John Patterson of NCR, George P Huffman of Huffy Bicycles, George Mead of Mead Paper and writer Erma Bombeck. Living in Detroit and traveling through states like Ohio and Pennsylvania we see the impact the movers and shakers of the Midwest had on this country; we put the world on wheels, put men in flight, created magnificent cities from the wealth of inventors and the labor of the working man. It’s pretty amazing.

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We are having lunch at Flyboys Deli in Oakwood, a residential city just south of Dayton. Worth noting: Orville Wright lived here, his stately home still stands at the corner of Harman and Park, John Patterson (NCR) also called Oakwood home. I read the menu while standing at the counter, the server at the register makes a few suggestions, making our decision easier. In addition to food the deli also serves beer, as we sit at the table and wait for our food I peruse the drink menu and settle on a Rhinegeist Panther Porter–good choice by me! Rhinegeist Brewery is located in Cincinnati. In no time our food arrives; The Wright is a roast turkey sandwich with cranberry-orange chutney, herb cheese, lettuce and tomato on multi-grain bread and a side potato salad, both are delicious. We take our time eating and relax a bit before jumping back in the Jeep……next stop Cincinnati.

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11 Responses to “Dayton: Looking Back….”

  1. 1world2feet January 13, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

    Cool photos! And the food looks delicious

  2. Ben January 13, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

    You two never fail to amaze! Thanks for another great article.

  3. alex January 13, 2016 at 10:42 pm #

    Another great story you guys are great I’am going to stop in Dayton next time through.

    • detroitdvotion January 15, 2016 at 9:37 pm #

      Thanks Alex.
      We’re sure you’ll enjoy visiting Dayton.

  4. Constance January 13, 2016 at 11:27 pm #

    Thank you for taking me places that I may probably have no chance of ever visiting, given the limited amount of time that I’m in the U.S. I enjoy seeing the homes, the food, the architecture, the atractions…. I loved the Packard photos. Such beautiful cars. Your writing is so informative and pleasant to read, and so many of your photos are worthy of the likes of National Geographic, I think. Kudos, and thanks again.

    • detroitdvotion January 15, 2016 at 9:36 pm #

      Thank You Constance. We’re glad to have you along!

  5. Joe January 14, 2016 at 9:37 pm #

    Interesting read. My Dad and his wife live near Dayton. I knew of Woodland and some of the local history and places, but you pointed out much more. Thank you.

    • detroitdvotion January 15, 2016 at 9:35 pm #

      Thanks Joe.
      Dayton’s a cool city, lots of history, you’ll have to check it out more next time you’re there.

  6. Alex January 15, 2016 at 11:39 pm #

    How about a story on belle Isle I grew up in Detroit but live in NC love the stories you do

    • detroitdvotion January 20, 2016 at 2:16 am #

      We’ll get there in the near future Alex, plenty of good things soon to happen on Belle Isle. Use the search window on our blog, you’ll find we’ve been out there many times before….a lovely place to visit!

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