In the works for more than seven years now, the restoration of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum’s building began earlier this month as roofing crews began stripping away the old membrane roof that leaks steadily with every rain storm and snow melt.
“Once they finish, we’re looking forward to having an official retirement ceremony for the buckets we’ve been using to catch the leaks,” said Brandon Anderson, the museum’s executive director.
A new roof, however, will be just one component of a massive preservation and restoration effort on a building that museum officials consider its greatest artifact – an effort that still needs about $2.5 million to see it through to completion.
Built in 1929 on Auburn, Indiana’s South Wayne Street to serve as the administration building for E.L. Cord’s Auburn Automobile Company, the building has seen a number of uses since Cord’s automotive empire collapsed in 1937. Dallas Winslow, who bought the assets of Cord’s empire at bankruptcy auction in 1938, used his vast supply of parts to restore Auburns, Cords, and Duesenbergs out of the building over the next few decades. A used car dealership, motorcycle dealership, and a machine shop went into the showroom at various times. A clothing company – complete with rows upon rows of sewing machines – operated out of the building’s second floor.
Then, in 1973, the founders of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum managed to purchase the building and, once inside, discovered that it remained essentially unaltered throughout all those other uses. The main showroom’s terrazzo floor still had its original Art Deco geometric designs under the decades of dust and dirt. Some of the original offices and the conference room remained intact with their furnishings. Not only was it a piece of Art Deco history, its original showroom provided a natural museum setting.
Though that’s not to say that time had left it untouched. “We’ve maintained the building to the top level of professionalism,” Anderson said. “But it still needed some work that was beyond our cyclical maintenance capabilities.”
There was the roof, which not only leaked but also allowed water to soak through the building’s parapets and inside the walls, where it started to push the interior plaster inward and the exterior brick and mortar outward, Anderson said. There was the showroom paint, applied during a restoration shortly before the museum moved in, which came close but didn’t quite capture the metallic sheen of the original paint. Windows and woodwork needed attention; the HVAC system needed to be replaced; and all of the brick exterior needed to be repointed.