A realtor friend of mine back in my hometown of Flint, Michigan recently posted a listing there for a most beautiful house in the mid-century modern architectural tradition. This house checked many boxes on my list of priorities, including aesthetics, layout, neighborhood and part of the city, square footage, and a few other things. It had me thinking about what it might actually be like to move back if I would be allowed to work from home. This train of thought led me back to a certain point in my life around eight years ago, when I had photographed our featured car and was having similar thoughts of returning to my birthplace city.
I’ve chosen not to post any pictures of the house in question out of deference to my realtor friend, but I did want to point out that Flint had seen an abundance of new construction with this space-age aesthetic from its vehicle manufacturing boom years of the 1950s through the ’60s. I grew up in an environment where all kinds of buildings – residential, commercial, and municipal – looked like they were plucked right out of “The Jetsons” and sprinkled throughout our factory town. This is perhaps one reason why I simply love the look of such buildings.
The defunct car dealership above sits directly across from the former Chinonis Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge, where my mom and dad had purchased three, consecutive Plymouths from a salesman who had also been one of my dad’s former students at the university: a 1971 Duster, a ’71 Fury, and also a ’77 Volaré. While I had never set foot inside the above dealership, I spent plenty of time across the street at Chinonis, thanks to the Volaré (much to my parents’ chagrin), and came to love that showroom and the oil, gas, grease and exhaust smells of the sunken garage pit, as well as the sounds of cars starting up and the clanking of tools, drills and lifts.
Even places of worship were constructed in a mid-century modern architectural style, like the former Woodside Church building in the College Cultural neighborhood, not far from my parents’ second house in Flint. This structure, designed by famous architect Eero Saarinen, dates from the early 1950s. Woodside Church has since relocated downtown, and Mott College has recently purchased this building.
The Chevrolet Corvair, particularly the second-generation coupe, has long been one of my favorite-looking cars of the ’60s. Even though I was born close to ten years after the last, new Corvair had been introduced, it’s a car I have felt I can relate to, metaphorically, on a few levels, as I had written about here just over three years ago. By model year ’65, when the second-generation cars had been introduced, the long-hood / short-deck look was about to explode in popularity with the advent of the concurrently introduced Ford Mustang. One could say that much like mid-century architecture bucked more traditional design trends in favor of looking to a perceived future, the unconventionally engineered Corvair, with its engine in its long-ish trunk and luggage compartment under the hood, was unquestionably iconoclastic for an American car.
Though I like those proportions that the Mustang delivered en masse to the public, I have come to really love this Corvair’s graceful profile, clean overall styling and European-influenced details. I’m hard-pressed to think of another example of a car that wears the absence of the long-hood / short-deck look better than the 1965 and later Corvair coupe. I have also often been that one that “zigged” when everybody else had “zagged”, with one example being my personal attire, and I like that the Corvair rocked its grille-less face and long trunk with élan. That the fuel filler door was on the driver’s side front fender was another detail that looked positively exotic when I had first taken notice of these cars.
Returning to my fantasy from just a couple of weeks ago of owning the closest thing to my dream home that I remember having seen for years, I’m reminded of how often the proverbial grass might seem to be greener on the other side. I would love to own both that house and a car like this ’68 Corvair Monza. I would not, however, want to subject my around-town classic car to the elements by not parking it in a garage. Even with a carport that could house two vehicles, a feature of the house in the real estate listing, my car(s) would be shielded only from falling things… not from the cold, heat, and other elements. My thought is that expansion and contraction of its construction materials would definitely age a vehicle that’s not housed in a somewhat climate controlled garage.
Then, there would be the matter of the car itself, its condition, and overall driveability. When I photographed our subject car close to nine years ago, there were no signs on it that indicated that it was for sale, and it looked positively radiant in what looked to be the original, factory Seafoam Green finish. Nineteen Sixty-Eight was the penultimate year of production for the ill-fated Corvair, and of the roughly 15,400 units built that year, about 6,800 were Monza coupes.
The base-model 500 hardtop coupe was slightly more popular than the Monza coupe, with about 7,200 units sold. I wonder if the 500’s popularity relative to the Monza coupe could be attributed, at least partially, to the 500 undercutting the Monza’s base price by 10%, and also to the Monza’s base price starting within 3% or so of the base-model ’68 Camaro. This brings to mind my memories of the mid-’90s Ford Mustang and Probe, and we all know which of those similarly-priced cars was more popular.
Many things that look decent at a distance often tend to reveal their flaws at close range without the use of intense scrutiny. The minor rust around the rear wheel well on the driver’s side of our featured car reminded me of just about every Michigan car, ever. This Corvair could have been a seven-year-old Chevy Cobalt coupe for its minor cosmetic imperfections and apparent light wear. I’ve been on a waiting list for covered parking in my condo building in Chicago for over a decade, and am now only at the number three spot from the top of the list. Would I really consider uprooting my life and making a(nother) major home purchase for a house without a heated garage, which has been one of my “must-haves” for years?
And then, there’s the issue of location. I realize I’ve made reference to some of the crazy traffic scenarios here in Chicago, especially around morning and evening rush hour, but there’s also that part of me that just dreams of cruising up and down North Sheridan Road and Lake Shore Drive next to Lake Michigan in my new-to-me classic, on the way to some fun destination in the greater Chicagoland area. If I bought a house in, and relocated to, Flint, while I would be thrilled to be back in the place that will probably always be ingrained in me to some degree as “home”, I would suddenly lose many aspects of the beautiful life, things, and people I’ve been blessed to encounter here in Chicago.
My time in the Windy City has seen me basically grow up from young adulthood through the eve of (meaning “not quite”) middle age. I may be ready for a major life change at some point, but is now the time and Flint the place? It’s an open-ended question as I type this.
As I flipped back through the pictures of that gorgeous, mid-century modern house, I thought about just how “me” it is, as my friends with whom I’ve shared the listing have enthusiastically both agreed and volunteered. It probably didn’t hurt that the sellers had similar tastes in furnishings to what I have in my place, and whoever was in charge of the photography did a great job with the pictures. However, and as also with the Corvair (if it or one like it was for sale), as much as I admire both house and car, part of me would feel a certain responsibility, out of respect for both, to stand back and let somebody else who really has the means to take care of them have a legitimate crack at ownership.
Asked another way, would I want the inherent beauty of both to be jeopardized by my somewhat limited means of maintaining them? Both house and car are objects and not people, and thus cannot physically “die”, but I’d have to say that given the rarity and historical significance of each, I think I’ll just close my internet browsers now for the sake of their preservation and hope that my realtor friend earns a good commission. Still, in closing, I’ll paraphrase the great poet Langston Hughes: we must hold fast to dreams, because they are often what continue to drive us, both literally and figuratively.
Downtown Flint, Michigan.
Sunday, February 20, 2011.