Changing times in South Bend

Okay, first off, this is not an entry about politics. I’m only pointing out that Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, picked a historic spot in his home city when he recently announced his presidential candidacy. When it came to identifying the location and its significance, most of the media gaggle following Buttigieg’s movements got it wrong. It’s not an auto assembly plant.

This is officially known as Building 84, and it was part of the huge Studebaker manufacturing complex in South Bend that dated back to the mid-1800s. Buttigieg used this building as the site of his announcement. Today, it’s one component of what South Bend now calls the Renaissance District, an 80-square-block area located just south of downtown, with Building 84 as one of its centerpiece properties. It’s envisioned as a technology and innovation hub, with a broad variety of anticipated uses. The name is appropriate because South Bend, which was ravaged when Studebaker shifted most of its production to Canada after 1963, has been experiencing something of an upswing lately. Building 84 was designed by the great Albert Kahn, who was also responsible for so much of Henry Ford’s big-footprint factory architecture. The plant’s purpose was body assembly; completed bodies were then sent for final assembly in a different building farther south. This view shows Building 84 around 1920, as seen by the line of cars on the left and the clerestory-roof baggage car on the rail siding to the right. When you think about the shameful vandalism and arson experienced by the old Packard plant in Detroit, any good news regarding the reuse of an old auto factory is welcome here. The image was furnished by Andrew Beckman, archivist at the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, which is a must-visit locale for any auto enthusiast. Its holdings are vast and priceless. Go to http://www.studebakermuseum.org to learn more about it. If you’re interested in Renaissance District doings, head to http://www.renaissancedistrict.com.

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