Rescued from obscurity
By the early 1970s, the one-time Durant-Dort Carriage Company office building was in bad shape. It wasn't much to look at - faded red brick, cracked walls, leaking flat roof, several broken windows, boarded-up stairs to upper floors, major foundation problems. Cream-colored paint applied to the first-story exterior years earlier, a half-hearted renovation, was peeling. Fancy wood cornices that ringed the building near the roof were mostly rotted stubs. Inside, a few customers at the bar of the Arrowhead Veterans Club were mildly enthusiastic. It was reported the building was about to be razed by the city for a new bridge across the Flint River, and the club anticipated getting money for a new clubhouse.
At that time the building's history was known to Sloan Museum director Roger Van Bolt but only a few others. It was brought to public attention by the writer (Lawrence R. Gustin) who was doing research for Durant's first biography ("Billy Durant: Creator of General Motors," 1973) and who also started a newspaper campaign to save the building. After I successfully sought state recognition of the building as a Michigan historical site, state officials went further, applying for recognition for national historic status. A local U.S. Bicentennial organization also became involved and a prominent businessman was willing to buy the building and turn it over to the City of Flint for preservation. It cost him $55,000 and his secret lasted until his death.The City turned to the Genesee County Historical Society for help in a restoration. President of the Genesee County Historical Society, Richard Scharchburg, led restoration efforts with major financial support from Mrs. Jay Thompson, Durant's great niece. David White, then curator at the Sloan Museum and Vice President of the Genesee County Historical Society (and eventual President following Richard) assisted in the oversight of the restoration. Upon completion, the Society created the Durant Dort Carriage Co Foundation to oversee the operation of the building into the future. Richard and David both took the lead in running the Foundation and were joined over the years by; Dorothy Thompson, Peter Klienpell, Larry Gustin, Matt Davison, Jerry Roe, Park Smith, and Kevin Kirbitz.
The Foundation covered the cost of operating the building by renting the facility out. The first tenant was the Flint Area Chamber of Commerce, followed by the Flint Area Convention and Visitor Bureau. Flint Community Development Corporation, Flint Club, and local attorneys. In 2012, General Motors agreed to fund the operation of the building allowing the building to be turned into a historic site museum. General Motors purchased the Carriage Factory across the street at the same time and is the process of a major restoration. Programming of the two buildings will be done to enhance each other and to encourage visitors.