Tag Archives: Packard

The Burbs: Hidden Treasures

13 Apr

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It’s the first Saturday of the month, we’re driving down 26 mile in New Baltimore we turn onto N Bay Dr, cars flood one parking lot in particular, we don’t need to see the address to know it’s the Stahls Automotive Foundation building. The contents of the building belong to one man, Ted Stahl, executive chairman of GroupeStahl which specializes in heat printing on fabrics. About 25 years ago Stahl began collecting vintage automobiles, outgrowing his previous space, his current ‘garage’ is a 45,000 sq. ft. building in Macomb County. The idea behind opening the doors to the public is to “build an appreciation for history.” “Each car was chosen based on engineering achievements that made it an important part of the evolution of the automobile.” There are over 80 vehicles on display, some are more than 100 years old. Let’s take a look.

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The lobby is home to an unexpected collection of music-playing devices. Juke boxes and a gorgeous, inlaid wood, Victorian Porter music box share the room with an amazing Hupfield Phonoliszt-Violina which plays 3 real violins along with a beautiful Mortier 87 key cafe organ in an Art Deco style cabinet dating from 1930. I’ve never seen anything like the Mills Violino-Virtuoso or the Wurlitzer PianOrchestra, they are all restored, operational, and works of art to look at, not to mention the beautiful melodies they produce. All of a sudden a loud, happy tune explodes into the air, it’s coming from the other room.

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We are now in the main section of the building, the music and all of the activity puts me in the mind of a circus. The music draws me to the largest instrument in the Stahl collection, a 1924 Wurlitzer theatre organ built for the Wurlitzer family mansion in Cincinnati. There are 1524 pipes ranging in size from 16′ high to the size of a pencil, an organist sits in front of the keyboard, his fingers dancing across the keys, people sit in folding chairs tapping their toes and smiling. Vehicles are arranged in chronological order, the oldest being a 1899 De Dion-Bouton Tricycle. There’s something to look at in every direction, signs, banners and flags hang from the ceiling and on the walls, vintage neon and porcelain steel signs from the 1920’s to the 50’s delight visitors. Gas pumps with fancy glass globes wear names like Polly, Gilmore and Sinclair. Memorabilia covers walls, sits in shelves and fills display cabinets, a Route 66 theme is carried out throughout the space.

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The cars, yes, those stunning mechanical works of art are the main attraction, get this, there are no ropes surrounding these incredibly valuable vehicles, you can walk right up to them, they even have towels draped across the top of the door so you can peek right inside. Hoods are up, tops are down, placards tell us about the vehicle, paint colors span the rainbow. Spoke wheels, huge headlights, wide white walls come on Hudson’s, Packards, Chryslers, to name a few. Special emphasis is placed on the cars of the 1930’s and 40’s, the Depression and Art Deco eras. The oldest is a 1886 Daimler prototype, the newest a 1967 Pontiac GTO Convertible, and of course there’s everything in between. Brands found here : Oldsmobile, Locomobile, Oakland, Ford, Chevrolet, Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Cadillac, Willy’s.

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Row after row of polished chrome, fancy hood ornaments, spectacular grills and leather interiors leave us in awe. Cars from movies such as The Great Race, The Reivers, the Whoville family sedan from How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Tucker look perfectly at home. Kris’s favorite is the magnificent deep blue 1932 Chrysler CL Imperial but I think he’d take any one of the American luxury cars from the 30’s, the details are incredible inside and out.

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We amble up and down aisles, all of a sudden the 1924 Mortier 97 key dance organ comes to life. Completely restored, this organ traveled through Belgium providing music and entertainment at 17 different fairs every year. It’s absolutely beautiful, the cream-colored cabinet is elaborately painted with landscape scenes, ornamental details are colored in pearly pastel colors, I just love it. In the corner is a life-size diorama of a Bob’s Big Boy complete with a soda fountain, like being back in the 50’s. Stahls Repair Garage pays tribute to the old-fashioned service station; you couldn’t get nachos or a slurpee, but there was a guy who actually pumped your gas, checked your oil and could even repair your car–ahhh, the good old days!

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 The whole time we’re here I have to keep reminding myself, this is some guy’s garage–and what a garage it is. It’s quite generous of the Stahl family to allow all of us a glimpse of his collection. There is no admission fee. The building is open every Tuesday from 1-4 pm and the 1st Saturday of the month from 11-4 pm. We encourage you to visit.

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From here we take 26 Mile into Marine City. We’re having lunch at Blue Pike Cantina on Water St. It’s a winery and smokehouse, you can do a wine tasting, buy bottles of wine and have a snack or a meal. After running out of wine at the end of the year, this is the first weekend they are open again. Inside, we are the only customers. The cozy space is fitted with wine racks, dining tables and counter space. Appetizing looking small plates are being placed in the glass cooler for display. We start with a glass of wine, Super Tuscan for me and Black Raspberry for Kris. The Italian Nachos come out first, homemade pasta chips drizzled with alfredo sauce and topped with Italian sausage, olives, pepper rings, green onions and tomato, it’s really good. Our smoked meatloaf sandwich is huge. Smoked meatloaf made in-house is sliced and placed on a kaiser roll, cole slaw and bbq sauce complete the sandwich, it arrives in a basket surrounded by housemade potato chips, delicious.


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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