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.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.
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.
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.