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BUICK CITY
WHY? WHO? WHERE? AN INQUIRY INTO THE ROADMASTERS ON THE ROOF. 2005 PLAN59.COM


Some of the pictures don't even show complete cars. The doors are removed in one. Another photo has a pretty girl driving what could only be described as the 1954 Buick Sawhorse. (Acceleration? Lumbering.)





The reflection in the hubcap yields a further clue:
A bunker-like shed with a curved roof  (detail, right), enclosing either a ramp or elevator to get the cars topside. Then we came across a photograph showing, in addition to Herself at the controls,  a building with a large sign painted on the side, blurrily visible in the distance.





Some more scanning and enlargement revealed "Henry H. Stevens STORAGE Nationwide MOVING SERVICE." A little Googling supplied the address: 1273 Broadway Boulevard in Flint, Michigan Flint being of course the birthplace of the Buick. A trip to the Terraserver Web site provided a satellite photo (from 1999, at right) of  the location. And, in the upper left of the picture (white arrow), just across the Flint River  . . .  our funny little shed! A bit more digging revealed this was a place called Buick City, a huge complex of factories 50 miles from Detroit. General Motors closed its plants there in 1999, and demolition of the buildings was under way  in 2002.



 
THIS IS a story that began with a dozen or so interesting-looking 8-by-10 glossy prints bought from a New York auto literature dealer. Taken in 1951 and 1953, they show 1952 and 1954 Buicks on the roof of a large building in an industrial area. Some of the cars are perched on a turntable, surrounded by white reflectors. Many of the shots feature models of the flesh-and-blood variety, mostly Size 2 girls with a few guys thrown in. But with an almost complete absence of backdrops, the pictures obviously weren't intended for publication. (Click on the photos for the full-size versions.)



Our best guess was that the pictures were intended as artists' studies for advertising and promotional illustrations. In the 1950s, most dealer sales brochures used painted illustrations rather than photographs. The location of the shooting was the bigger mystery. As with most professionally made pictures, there's not much evidence of the photographer (aside from an ink stamp and the actual photographs). Except: 1950s cars being what they were, these Buicks made liberal use of chrome. A little hunting, and high-resolution scanning, revealed the photographer and his crew reflected in the wheel covers, bumpers and miscellaneous brightwork.







At left are thumbnails of two aerial views of  Buick City: In its heyday, sometime before 1999 (top left), and in 2000 not long after the closing. Red arrows point to the Henry Stevens building and to the roof where the Buick photos were taken. (Click for full-size images.) Below are the sad results of the demolition in progress, with our funny little shed ready to meet the wrecking ball.



Oh what a time it was. We hope Buick doesn't go the way of Oldsmobile. But if it does, we'll still have the marque's fabulous cars as well as a few strange photographs.