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Architecture Around Buffalo: The Packard Showroom

By Lucas R. Watson, Features Contributor

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Buffalo had a booming automobile industry; out of that came one of the largest rail hubs in the nation. Buffalo hosted automobile part manufacturers Dunlop and Trico, according to writer Dale English for Business First. Buffalo was slated to be one of the largest automobile manufacturing capitals in the country, set to become the next Detroit with extensive rail connections, booming lake connections for freight and other goods and access to an international border by use of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Unfortunately, Ford was turned away by the leaders of the city of Buffalo, and with shifts in the economy, Buffalo fell out of favor by the 1950s.

Peerless, Pierce-Arrow and Packard: these are the three “P’s” of luxury automobiles in the United States. They were among the most coveted cars of their era. Packard’s modern-day equivalent is a Rolls Royce or a Bentley. Due to the position of Buffalo in the nation as one of its largest cities in the 1920s — the eleventh largest in the United States at that time — the population was a market for luxury cars. Thus, Packard came to Buffalo.

The Packard Motor Car Company was founded in 1899 and had a rich history of producing some of the very finest of American luxury cars, exceeding Cadillac in their opulence. The company made automobiles until July 16, 1958, lasting 59 years as one of the United States’s more esteemed motor car companies and hitting its stride in the 1920s and 1930s.

Many enthusiasts still collect old Packards and restore them to their original configuration. They are rather interesting because of their nostalgic grip on the community and iconic design.

Having found a market in Buffalo, and in the northeast as a whole, Packard opened up a showroom at 1325 Main Street and Riley. Our building today, the showroom, was designed by Albert Kahn in 1926. Kahn had designed several buildings for Packard, including showrooms in other major U.S. cities. He also designed a series of factories in the Soviet Union under contract and was quite prolific in Detroit; many of his designs are still seen on the skyline of Detroit and across Michigan today. The building itself is typical of those seen in the ‘20s, with a facade made of Indiana limestone. Most noticeable is the large lettering visible from the street that says “PACKARD.”

There is a water tank on the roof of the building painted with the Packard Motor Cars logo that is still visible today. The property was intended to be the distribution center for the northeast and has a vast amount of space, and it largely embodies the neoclassical style, as a simplistic overview of the details by the National Register of Historic Places describes. On Main Street, it is a hard sight to miss but still one worth slowing down to appreciate. Most recently, the building has been turned into business and apartment spaces by Regan Development Corporation.

The history of automobiles in Buffalo is rather interesting, but an even more prominent company — and the most widely known — is the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, which called Buffalo home. Read the paper next week to learn about the Pierce-Arrow showroom.

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