Group Pushing For Studebaker Designation

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Indiana Landmarks is pushing to have the former Studebaker complex in South Bend added to the National Register of Historic Places. The city recently marked the 50th anniversary of the plant's closing.

February 12, 2014

News Release

South Bend, Ind. -- The 120-acre Studebaker complex in South Bend once included hundreds of buildings. Only four structures remain, and a collaboration of owners has partnered with Indiana Landmarks to commission a nomination to list the buildings, plus two railroad stations that served the complex, in the National Register of Historic Places.

With funding from its Partners in Preservation program and contributions from the building owners, Indiana Landmarks retained Kurt Garner to prepare the nomination. If approved at the local, state and federal levels, the Studebaker-Railroad Corridor Historic District will include the Studebaker Administration Building and Automobile Assembly Building #84, tool and machine shop #112, and truck production building #113, as well as Union Station and the Vandalia depot.

The Historic Preservation Commission of South Bend and St. Joseph County, which has provided research assistance, must approve the nomination before it moves on to the state and federal levels.

It’s been 50 years since a Studebaker rolled off the assembly line in South Bend. The three connected production buildings, constructed between 1923 and 1945 and now largely vacant, retain their industrial design featuring banks of windows that brought natural light to workers manufacturing automobile bodies. Internationally famous architect Albert Kahn designed Buildings #84 and #113.

Entrepreneur Kevin Smith owns Union Station and the three Studebaker assembly plants. He plans a multi-million dollar phased restoration of each of the three auto plant structures—a total of 880,000 square feet—as a data and technology center.

Smith, a South Bend native, lives in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house not far from the city. He turned South Bend’s Art Deco-style Union Station into a data center and carrier hotel—a high-tech hub with network, server, and other infrastructure for telecommunications providers.

"Union Station was the subject of Indiana Landmarks' first loan, back in the 1980s when the building was endangered, to South Bend Heritage Foundation," says Todd Zeiger, director of Indiana Landmarks’ regional office in South Bend. "The group sold the station to Kevin Smith, who retooled it, first as an event center and later to serve the information highway, showing that these sturdy old structures can be adapted to the most modern purposes."

Smith appreciates both the history and the architecture of the Studebaker buildings and believes they have many more years of productive life. National Register status will make the structures’ restoration eligible for preservation and rehabilitation tax credits. He plans to expand the data hub in the Body Assembly Building next door to Union Station, and convert the upper floors to condominiums and lofts with views of Covaleski Stadium.

The Body Assembly Building’s sturdy construction can support the weight of the data center, and heat generated by the computers can be harnessed to reduce heating costs. Fiber optic cable runs beneath the nearby railroad tracks. "All the ingredients that made the Studebakers successful can make a twenty-first century technology venture successful," says Smith. "I'm building my success on their shoulders, using a historic structure to repeat the historic success of Studebaker and bring it into the modern era."

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Indiana Landmarks revitalizes communities, re-establishes connections to heritage, and saves meaningful places. With eight offices located throughout the state, Indiana Landmarks helps people rescue endangered landmarks and restore historic neighborhoods and downtowns. People who join Indiana Landmarks receive its bimonthly magazine, Indiana Preservationist. The not-for-profit organization’s headquarters, Indiana Landmarks Center, is a repurposed nineteenth-century church at 1201 Central Avenue in Indianapolis. For more information, call 317-639-4534, 800-450-4534, or visit www.indianalandmarks.org.

Source: Indiana Landmarks