Preserving a bit of Packard history

Four classic Packard automobiles go on display in downtown Wichita.

05/12/2012 5:00 AM

05/12/2012 6:19 AM

For a few hours Thursday, Wichitans could travel back in time and experience a bit of what it felt like to walk into a high-end downtown car dealership and check out the new models.

Four classic Packard automobiles were on display in what was the J. Arch Butts Packard Building at 1525 E. Douglas. The imposing structure is now home to GLMV Architecture, Inc., which renovated the structure and hosted the open house.

Built in 1925, the building served as the base of operations for Butts’ Packard dealership in what was to become a booming automotive section of downtown Wichita.

"I now believe that J. Arch Butts did not stay with Packard very long after he built this beautiful building," said Jim Mershon, the owner of one of the Packards on display and a historian of Wichita auto dealerships.

Butts also sold Cadillacs and LaSalles out of the building, Mershon said. "Because (he) was selling GM products in the same building as Packards, Packard may have given him an ultimatum," he noted, saying he could find no listing for the Butts Packard dealership after 1931.

"All of the new and used cars were displayed indoors, which was quite typical for that time," Mershon explained, saying there just wasn’t room for outdoor car lots during those booming times along Douglas Avenue.

"Above the doorway, they had a lighted turntable with a car on it rotating 24/7," Mershon said. "They all had really deluxe buildings."

Joining Mershon, who displayed his classic 1935 Packard Phaeton on Thursday, were Jeff Breault, owner of a 1936 Packard 120B Sedan, Roger Sherwood, owner of a 1940 Packard Formal Club Sedan, and Allen Rich, owner of a 1939 Packard Limousine.

The J. Arch Butts building would go on to house several other auto dealerships through the years. Its original architectural style combined elements of Art Deco, Streamlined and Art Moderne into what is referred to as "Modern Movement" design, according to GLMV’s application submitted to the National Register of Historic Places.

The building has been modified to make room for offices, conference rooms and drafting studios. Mershon said the sign on the corner of the building copies the shape of the original Packard dealership sign. To the firm’s credit, he said they have done a good job preserving the character of one of the city’s landmark auto dealerships.

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