I remember reluctantly selling the first car I ever owned, and every once in a while, I still fantasize about somehow finding that car and purchasing it again.
Bob Signom Sr. owned a 1928 Packard Six Cylinder Convertible Coupe. He loved that car, and he was heartbroken when he had to sell it with the onset of the Depression during the 1930s.
His son, Bob Jr., knew of his father's love for that car when he spotted an ad in the New York Times offering a 1928 Packard Six Convertible Coupe for sale.
The car amazingly appeared to be the exact same vehicle that his father had to surrender more than a half-century earlier!
Bob Jr. bought the car, and it became the start of a collection of elegant Packards, unusual military vehicles and all sorts of original Packard parts, equipment and other memorabilia related to the Packard company and its history now displayed at America's Packard Museum in downtown Dayton at the corner of Ludlow and Franklin Streets.
Signom kept his collection in several Dayton warehouses over the years until he acquired the museum's current home in 1992, a former Packard dealership called the Citizens Motorcar Company housed in an early Art Deco-style building designed by the great Detroit-based industrial architect Albert Kahn.
The Citizens Motorcar Company sold Packards in Dayton beginning in 1908, moving to the then-new Kahn building in 1917.
A young Ohio engineer named James Ward Packard founded the car company with his brother William in 1899. The duo from Warren, Ohio envisioned their automobiles as prestige vehicles and priced them accordingly.
Packard styling was generally conservative, but the brand gained a lot of cachet from customized cars created by a number of designers using Packard chassis.
Heads of state, moguls and celebrities often gravitated to the luxurious cars that sold for $2,500-plus as a time when Henry Ford was finding his success offering cars costing as little as $450 to working class customers.
Packard merged briefly with Studebaker during the 1950s in an effort to keep both companies going, but Packard soon split from Studebaker and disappeared from the automotive scene by the end of the decade.
The dealership building lay vacant for many decades until Signom acquired it.
The 20-foot-tall neon and porcelain "Packard" blade sign that hung on a front corner of the building's exterior until the early 1940s was in the building's basement, so Signom re-installed it back to its original position. He also restored the interior to closely resemble its original appearance and configuration with a car showroom and a service department with working hydraulic lifts behind the showroom area.
The museum has more than 50 Packards dating from the very early 1900s through the 1950s, as well as the military vehicles, engines and experimental aircraft that kept Packard going through the World War II era.
There are many beautifully restored cars here, but there are also cars here with original paint and unrestored finishes, with many of them in working condition (we visited the museum as workers prepped the venue for a charity event saw them get behind the wheel of several cars and start them right up in order to move them around).
The building has a large collection of period office furniture, equipment and Packard advertising material, making it feel like you've entered a circa 1920s dealership to kick a few tires.
Ohio's Montgomery County Historical Society recognized the museum with an award for restoration of a commercial building in 1993.
In 1998, Car Collector Magazine named the museum as one of the Top Ten automotive-related museums in the U.S.
In 2004, the Society of Automotive Historians gave the museum the James Bradley Award for its efforts to preserve motor vehicle resource materials, one of only six museums in the United States to receive this recognition.
The museum rents space for events, accommodating parities as large as a sit-down meal for 200, a 250-person cocktail party or a party for up to 300 people if you include a pavilion and courtyard added to the building in 1936.
The museum opens from noon until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. It is open year round, closing only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year Day.
Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $4 for students, although the docent let us in for half price the day that we visited because of the charity event set up).
It's worth noting that there is also a National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio, which is a few hours away from the Packard Museum in Dayton and reportedly organized in a more conventional manner with formal exhibits. Sounds like another place to add to our Midwest Bucket List!
Want to learn more about the Packard Motor Car Company? Check out The Packard Motor Car Company by Evan P. Ide, "Ask the Man Who Owns One": An Illustrated History of Packard Advertising by Arthur W. Einstein or Packard: A History of the Motor Car and the Company by Beverly Kimes.
Check out Visiting Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana for more about the Packard-Studebaker merger or Visiting Detroit's William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse on Belle Isle to learn about another unique structure designed by architect Albert Kahn.
© Dominique King 2015 All rights reserved