Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum prepares for restoration of its art deco showroom

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Photo courtesy Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum.

Built in 1929. Restored once (incorrectly) in the Seventies. Has seen some weather-related damage since. Needs a second restoration.

While that description could conceivably apply to some of the vehicles the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum celebrates, it actually portrays the museum itself, a former Auburn showroom with notable deterioration, something a recently awarded $420,000 grant to the museum aims to address.

“Structurally, there’s no danger to the building,” said Laura Brinkman, the museum’s executive director. “Nothing is compromised at this point, but we just can’t let these things go.”

At first glance, the building on Wayne Street in Auburn, Indiana, looks no worse for wear than the owners of any nearly 90-year-old building could expect. None of the brickwork is dirty or crumbling, all of the ornamentation remains intact, and fine-lettered signs painted on the ground-floor windows herald the finely restored classic luxury automobiles inside.

However, according to Brinkman, the building has a number of deficiencies ranging from failing lintels to inaccurate paint colors in the showroom, all uncovered during a year-long study of the building that resulted in an 800-page historic structure report that detailed every nook and cranny of the building.

“It’ll be our bible for the next 20 to 25 years when it comes to what we need to do with the building,” she said. “It got all of our ducks in a row to launch this restoration project.”

The wrong paint, applied during a 1973 restoration of the building just prior to the opening of the museum, should be easy enough to correct: The engineers who compiled the report found samples of the original paint underneath, and a recently announced challenge grant from the Jeffris Family Foundation (which provided about half of the funding for the historic structure report) promises to provide the aforementioned $420,000 for the showroom’s restoration as long as the museum raises $840,000 in matching funds.

But first the museum staff need to secure the building’s exterior, which means repairing the entire roof, rebuilding the parapet, and replacing the lintels above all of the windows to address existing leaks. Brinkman said the historic structure report’s writers estimate the roof project to cost about $2.6 million; the showroom restoration would cost more than $1.2 million. The total cost of repair and restoration for the building comes to nearly $10 million.

None of the Jeffris grant – which needs to be matched within three years – is eligible to be used on the roof repair portion of the project. For that reason, according to Josh Valadez, the museum’s marketing manager, the museum will kick off a $5 million capital campaign this Labor Day weekend.

“We’re trying to build a sense of urgency now before it becomes a real danger,” Valadez said. “This all needs to be done sooner rather than later.”

While the building’s designation as a National Historic Landmark does not restrict the museum from making any changes to the building – from which Errett Lobban Cord built and lost his automotive empire during the 1930s and which subsequently housed Dallas Winslow‘s operations as well as a used car dealership, a motorcycle dealership, a machine shop, and a clothing company – Brinkman said the museum’s aim is to keep the building as original as possible. At the same time, she reiterated her intention to ensure the building and its collections will remain in the same condition for the next 500 years.

As far as timelines, Brinkman said she would like to see the new roof for the museum go on this fall. The restoration itself will then be dictated by the three-year deadline for the Jeffris grant.

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