(10/18/04) Construction job unearths old Studebaker sign
(Webmaster note: Thanks to Neil Loughlin of Ortonville, MI for the photo and for bringing this story to our attention. The following story appeared in The Daily Oakland Press, Rochester Hills, MI and was posted on their website on 10/15/04)
By ANN ZANIEWSKI
Of The Daily Oakland Press
The buzz around the Downtown Cafe isn't about its famous chicken salad with walnuts and cherries or gooey caramel French toast.
Visitors to the quaint, 10-table eatery are talking about a snapshot of the city's past - a painted outline of a sign from an old Studebaker dealership - that was uncovered last month when construction workers peeled off the building's red wood siding.
"Twenty people a day stop by and take pictures of it," said owner Tim Delaney.
When they were digging around, employees of Michigan General Masonry also found old, extra wide tracks running under the building parallel to Main Street. The Rochester-Avon Historical Society says they are remnants of a car repair station of the Detroit United Railway, an electric rail line that ran down Main, connecting the city with Detroit and Flint from at least 1899 until the early 1930s.
Society member Rod Wilson said both discoveries highlight an important part of the city's past that many forgot about or are too young to remember.
"It's one of those old stories that brought back a lot of remembrances to people," he said.
"You don't see the Studebaker name out there anymore ... There were younger people who wanted to know the history of it and thought it was kind of neat."
Based on her research, Liz Golding of the society said the cinder block building, which also houses a Hungry Howie's and La Marquise salon, was built just after World War II as a Kaiser-Fraser dealership.
It was sold in the 1950s and began to sell Studebakers, which were known for their sleek styling before going out of production in 1966. A telephone book from 1957 lists the business as Davis Studebaker.
It was also a car repair shop until closing in the 1960s, according to Golding.
On the patchy white facade, gray paint surrounds "STUDEBAKER" in yellow lettering sandwiched between the words sales and service.
It looks as if raised letters were put on top of the yellow, with the surrounding gray added later.
Since the sign saw light, the little building at Old Towne and Main has intrigued passers-by and incited memories.
Hungry Howie's owner, Bill Hagey, said one man came in recently and shared a sweet story of how he bought his very first car there in 1966.
Several people have stopped to snap photos.
All the attention has been lucky for Hagey and Delaney, who have both realized a boost in sales.
"I was nervous when they were planning this project, that it would hurt me for six weeks. But business has been up" by as much as 15 percent, Delaney said.
By the end of next week, new mulberry bricks and four gray limestone ribbons will hide the cinder blocks.
Until then, and for the first time in decades, real Studebakers will park there.
Hagey says at least a half-dozen people have brought their classic cars by for photos. He lets them pull on the front lawn.
A woman stopped in Thursday afternoon and told him she's coming back today with her husband's pink Studebaker.
"She thinks he'll get a big kick out of seeing his Studebaker in front of the store," Hagey said.
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