Saturday, July 27, 2013

Flint Icons: The Durant-Dort Office Building

The news that General Motors had pledged to financially support the historic Durant-Dort Office Building on Water Street, which is owned by the Genesee County Historical Society, was a reminder of how close Flint came to losing this Vehicle City icon.

Like much of Carriage Town, the building where Billy Durant and J. Dallas Dort created G.M. and helped transform America had seen better days before it was restored as part of the ill-fated push to transform Flint into a tourist destination, proving that even bad ideas like AutoWorld can yield something positive for a community.

A brief history of the building on Wikipedia reads:
In 1895–96, the company built this building near their factories to house offices and, on the second floor, a carriage showroom. A contemporaneous account describes it as "an elegant office in connection with [the] main factory, where a small army of clerks, stenographers and typewriters are engaged in the clerical part of the company's business. The office building was originally built as a two-story Italianate structure with a flat roof. Around 1900, the flat roof was replaced with a hipped roof, and an entrance portico was added, giving the structure a Georgian appearance. In 1906, a fire damaged the roof, and rather than repairing it, the company added an extra story and capped the building with a flat roof; the portico was also removed at the time. The building remained in this configuration until the 1980s.

Durant left the Durant-Dort Carriage Company in 1913, and J. Dallas Dort used the office building and nearby factory for the production of automobiles by his Dort Motor Company. The building was used by Dort until 1924, after which it provided office space for various service organizations such as the Red Cross and the local Chamber of Commerce. In 1947, the Arrowhead Veteran's Club obtained the building for use as its headquarters. The club owned the building until 1977, when the city of Flint purchased the building with the help of an anonymous $55,000 donation. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978. Using the designation and the deteriorating condition of the building as an impetus, the Genesee County Historical Society undertook the task of restoring the building. Funds were raised, and the building was restored to its early 1900s condition, replacing the hipped roof and portico that had been in place at that time. The restoration was completed by 1986.
I can't help wishing many other buildings could have had the same luck. A restored Sill Building, with its slender profile, would be a nice addition to the UM-Flint campus if it hadn't been demolished. The houses on Manning Court would be a greater asset to the city than the parking lot that replaced them.

But rather than dwell on the historic structures the city has lost, let's be thankful for the one that didn't get away. Here's a selection of photos of the Durant-Dort Office Building over the years. For more photos and information, Gerry Godin's personal take on the building at his All Things Buick blog is a must. And the Durant-Dort Carriage Company Facebook page is another worthwhile source.


The original two-story exterior in 1898.

 
By 1901, a third story had been added to the building.
 

Despite the external decay, much of the ornate interior details were still intact in 1975 when Flint was beginning its downward slide.


Workers reconstruct the third floor in 1982 with the doomed Hyatt-Regency in the background.
 

The finished product.

20 comments:

  1. Based on that 1977 pic, that is an incredible restoration project.

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    1. Yeah, I had no idea it had gotten that bad. Amazing that the interior had a lot of the high-end original woodwork, etc.

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  2. Given the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor's hostility to the auto industry in general, and the domestic auto industry in particular, it is not surprising that, by extension, the University of Michigan-Flint would not make a priority of preserving any auto manufacturing related buildings regarded as being in their way. It is surprising that there is whatever cooperation there is with Kettering due to its history. I think there is just a visceral opposition to any personal transportation better than a bicycle. I have to believe that this is a Socialist mindset. Back in the 1970s, I told a University of Michigan graduate student doctoral candidate that GMI students had the highest average SAT scores in the state, and were very close to the average at Ivy League schools. Their reaction was "how can that be, GMI is just a trade school." Also, the U of M-Ann Arbor professor who, upon walking down Westwood Parkway to the Provost's house, only remarked that the lot size there was too large and not environmentally friendly. I don't know why people with that attitude didn't just move to the Soviet Union.

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    1. Here here buddy! Very well said!

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  3. I don't know that bicycles imply socialism, dear hyperbolizing Anonymous, but I'm sure some UM elitism affects what happens in Flint. While I know that and, as a longtime UMF employee recognize what Anonymous is saying, there also should be no love lost between Flint and GM. Let's face it: we got screwed by the capitalists. They polluted Chevy in the Hole, changed the curves of the Flint River to buy themselves more factory land, left the river chemically tainted, pulled out of town and left a debacle of social, political, financial, architectural and environmental damage behind that Gordie and others document. I'm not a 100% percent defender of the intellectuals, but let's be honest --some of their hostility is based on the facts. Intellectuals have often been the irritating nerds who noticed the king had no clothes on, and they've often paid a price for it. We could use a little more respect for the love of empiricism and inductive reasoning to which the academics, however pompous and nettling, are devoted. Soviet Union? You've got to be kidding.

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  4. Anonymous' comment reminded me how 99% of the UM alumni I have had contact with have been complete jerks.

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  5. But U of M is also big in history and sociology. So by your logic, the academics must be in quite the philosophical dilemma over preserving these buildings. :-/

    Gordon -- Thanks for the blog on this building. That's a beautiful restoration project. What's the address on Water St, or what's the cross street? I plan to visit downtown Flint later this year (primarily because I read your book) and would like to take a look first-hand.

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    1. Paul, here's a link to the building on google maps: http://goo.gl/maps/cx3Jy

      It's right across the street from the pink Nash House in the book where I stayed in the summer of 2009.

      And thanks for reading teardown!

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  6. > Let's face it: we got screwed by the capitalists.

    Heh. Seems to me that because they're capitalists, it's not their job to take care of us. Now if they were socialists, we'd have a valid complaint.

    I like having "irritating nerds" around, but I think it has to be noted that the "facts" on which their hostility to capitalism's strengths and weaknesses is based are, in some cases, ideologically influenced. Personally, I'd be delighted to have a thousand or two factory jobs brought back here by those nasty capitalists even though we would have the risk that they might someday leave again, and even if some of those lovably irritating nerds were peeved.

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  7. Jan Worth-NelsonJuly 31, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    Hmm..Whether it was "their job" to take care of us or not, dear JWilly, they still screwed us. Your distinction, in practical effect, makes no difference to the screwees. Except maybe that while we were getting screwed, they were getting rich and the place they left behind after their exuberant pillaging is a mess. Socialists can be exasperatingly inefficient, but at least they almost never get rich at other people's expense. Oh wait -- Maybe that's why we should watch out for the socialists: nobody makes a killing when they're running the show. Really, what's the fun in that??

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  8. Well, I can't complain anymore that all we ever talk about on the blog is Coneys and Halo Burger. To the barricades!

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  9. Don't forget the Flint capitalists that got screwed by the GM capitalists, everyone "left behind" was not a socialist or union member,all got screwed equally........ so I guess there should be no complaints. What? My head spins.

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  10. If we're going to be guarding the barricades long, can someone make a Coney run?

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    1. Ha ha. Love this. That's what matters, dammit! Dinner!

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  11. So now we can start the REAL debate: who makes a better coney -- the capitalists or the socialists?

    I don't think you can blame the decay of Flint's historical buildings (or the city's sad situation in general) on any one political or economic philosophy. Flint's suffering is due to discrimination, greed, and lack of long-range planning. Those are human characteristics, and no political party or economic dogma holds a monopoly on them. No one is guilt-free.

    But then, what do I know? I'm just one of those *sshole U of M grads.

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  12. That building was across the street from our family's wholesale fruit and vegetable business. For years, Vet's Grill was a tiny restaurant to the right as you walked in, and further in and to your left was Vet's Bar complete with a pool table.

    I cannot begin to tell any of you about the current renovation aside from what I read, but I will tell all of you what it was like to be inside during the mid-60's.

    Blue collar paradise; it was full liquor and beer after the work day ended. We drank, shot pool, cussed and swore, and in the spirit of Flint industrial hard core labor, immersed ourselves in the camaraderie of that place. The men were dirty, the women were floozies, and the cigarettes and smoke from them enveloped all of us just as completely as the alcohol we threw down.

    I was drinking in there underage at age 15 and my father knew it. He was there too, the white collar boss of all his blue collar crew and they were all equal. Beer, followed by shots of whiskey, then followed by an ivory white ball on a field of green until solids and stripes ended with the drop of the black number eight.

    My God, I loved every minute it...

    Rosenberg; Kodisk, AK / Sarasota, FL / Zhengzhou, CN

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    1. What a gorgeous post, Bernard. That's the Flint I missed completely, having arrived only in '81 -- since then, it has all been decimation, mourning the loss, cursing the corpse. You get at the blue collar romance of it; I wish I'd seen those years. I remember when I first got here AC Spark Plug was still going great guns, and I used to like seeing the shoprats flood out through the gates at the end of first shift -- it looked like the America of Rosie the Riveter and Carl Sandburg...I know there was a lot of trouble, too, in those times, but your post evokes the part we LIKE to think about in considering Flint's boom times. On the "romantic side," I've lately been taken by the plucky miniature-scale efforts of some young folks here -- the barber Zac Minock, the cobbler on Buckham Alley, the craftsman, Ray Sinclair, who just laid a beautifully crafted walk for me and built me a new porch with ionic columns. Small substitution for your beer and shots afternoons, but some comfort.

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    2. We missed each other Jan. '81 was the summer I graduated high school, worked a temp job at the AC plant you mentioned, then headed off to college and a career, leaving Flint in the rear view mirror. I return occasionally to visit Dad and Sis, but Flint is a shadow of its former self.

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  13. So, we are to hate U of M graduates now?

    There is so many groups to hate, it is really hard to keep track of them all.

    Who are we supposed to be afraid of now?

    I mean, can't we just enjoy a good building restoration for what it is?

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