(first posted 4/21/2016) I found this Park Avenue in my Chicago neighborhood, Edgewater, several years ago, parked in front of this old, yellow-brick mansion. This area used to be full of residences like this one, mostly up through the 1950’s. The northward expansion of nearby Lake Shore Drive and changing demographics saw many such dwellings subdivided into rental units, as the area slid into a lower-rent district. Many of these houses, which had turned into flophouses by the mid-60’s, were subsequently demolished, displaced by low- and mid-rise apartment buildings.
The area has since experienced a rebirth and renewed popularity as a beachfront, residential community, but let’s look at the sad manse above – doesn’t it appear to have some beautiful bones? Its exquisite masonry and high-ceilinged front porch ooze Prohibition-era class. Similarly, this old, FWD Buick elicits a certain top-drawer swagger, even at a quarter-century off the line. It’s not of a vintage to be considered a true classic, yet not new enough to be considered current.
It has been a fact for some time now that the Buick brand is popular in China. As recently as 2014, over 919,000 Buicks were sold in China that year versus just under 229,000 in the United States, out of an annual figure of about 1,170,000 (also including Buick sales in Canada and Mexico). Granted, the U.S. and China have limited overlap between their respective product lines (no Excelle or GL8 here, with the Envision SUV to arrive this summer), but Buick’s placement in the Chinese marketplace appears to be upscale.
Lately in the U.S., though, it seems like GM is now trying to cast Buick in much the same role as it had tried with Oldsmobile starting in the late-80’s, attempting to jettison Buick’s more traditional, American-luxury image for one that is decidedly more global. The current Regal is, for all intents and purposes, a rebadged Opel Insignia – no bad thing, but not a design of which buyers of traditional, American luxury cars would take “ownership” as a homegrown design.
It remains to be seen if this tactic will be successful for Buick’s survival in the U.S. in the long run. In the meantime, though, please indulge my imagination for a moment. Let’s pretend the beautiful, brick mansion in the title shot got a full-on renovation and was restored to its former glory. As a home insurance underwriter, I have seen it documented that craftsmanship and quality of building materials of houses built around that time were much better than what we’ve seen for at least the past fifty years. I’m also aware some of us prefer newer construction to something this old, which would come with its own share of age-related challenges. All the same, I would prefer something as solid and inherently beautiful as our featured dwelling, once restored, over a newer house with a similar footprint.
As for Buicks (and like buildings), I like them big, expressively-styled, solid, and luxurious – as once was the Grandeur Apartments building in my neighborhood seen behind this second, same-generation Park Avenue. In this age of irony and self-deprecation, it almost seems “uncool” to be aspirational or even just to like nice things. I’ve never been cool, so I don’t care who knows I like old broughams and old buildings. I do hope that Buick succeeds in its new-ish, intended mission, as I’ve already witnessed the death of far too many GM divisions within my lifetime (five).
It would be great, though, to see Buick re-embrace (and really sell to the American people) why their once-trademarked style of American class, combined with obvious benefits of new technology like fuel efficiency and crash protection, could make their classic definition of luxury relevant again in this country, today. Stranger things have happened. The featured yellow-brick mansion and the Grandeur may yet one day be restored. Let’s hope Buick’s place in the automotive upper-echelon will be, as well.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.