A unique structure on Ann Arbor's west side is for sale and its ultimate fate unknown.
Naylor Motor Sales' five-sided showroom on W. Stadium is based on the "pentastar," the logo comprised of five triangles that Chrysler introduced in 1962 to represent the five brands it sold at the time--Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge, Imperial, and Dodge trucks. "I hoped Chrysler Corporation would adopt [the showroom design] and make me famous, but that didn't happen," says architect Ted Smith, who designed it in 1965.
Naylor was only twenty-eight when he bought the dealership in 1950. Its original building at 310 W. Washington (now the Neutral Zone) dated to 1923, and at various times had housed Paige, Jewett, Hudson, Essex, Reo, and DeSoto dealers.
When Naylor bought it, almost all Ann Arbor car dealers were located downtown, including Buick (101 N. Ashley), Cadillac (502 E. Washington), Ford (514 E. Washington), Lincoln Mercury (312 E. Huron), and Chevrolet (209 W. Huron). As car sales took off after WWII, all outgrew their buildings and relocated to what was then the edge of town.
Naylor--who Smith remembers as "a wonderful fellow"--bought the land on W. Stadium from German immigrant Gottlob Schumacher. Smith was the obvious choice as architect. Naylor knew him both as a customer and as a friend, and Smith's own best friend, John Kasurin, was a neighbor of Naylor. (Smith's first job when he graduated from U-M architecture school in 1953 was working for Kasurin's father, Paul, a well-established architect who was responsible, sometimes with partner Lynn Fry, for many Ann Arbor landmarks including the Tuomy Hills gas station and the First National building.) John Kasurin worked as Smith's draftsman while he was designing the dealership.
Other car dealers headed in other directions. Chevrolet, Ford, and Pontiac moved further west on Jackson, Volkswagen to S. State, and Buick to Washtenaw. Only one other dealer, Devon Lincoln-Mercury, chose W. Stadium.
Smith says Naylor gave him a free hand in the design. Asked if it was hard to design a five-
sided building, Smith laughs and says, "No, all you have to do is divide 360 by five to decide the size of the segments." He says contractor Ernie Krause admitted it was challenging, but when the segments came together, "he was only off by one-and-a-half inches."
Smith was pleased with the result, calling it "an outstanding building. He says that Naylor liked it and that it got "good vibes from the community." However, they never received a word of encouragement--or even acknowledgement--from Chrysler. Smith believes that's because "it was done on the outside, not built by the Chrysler store planning department." But he still believes "it put their in-house efforts to shame."
Smith designed many homes and apartments before leaving Ann Arbor in 1971. When the old Strickland Market burned down, he designed the replacement. Another favorite project was the Peak Ski Shop at 3162 Packard, where he added a peaked two-story addition (it's now Fraser Bicycle). And he did two other buildings near the dealership on W. Stadium: the Curtis-Graves Pediatric Clinic (today Steiner Health) at 1825 and his own Krause-Smith offices at 1817 (now a dental office). Pictures of his Ann Arbor projects are online at:
Don Naylor died in 1985 at age sixty-two. Former salesman Rick Wresche, whom Naylor hired, seconds Smith's warm memories. "Don was a wonderful guy to work for, always positive," Wresche says. "If there was a problem, he'd say, 'It'll clear up.'" Wresche liked the job so well that he stayed thirty-four years.
Naylor's son Phil took over and continued operating under his dad's customer-oriented philosophy. "Our customer satisfaction index was always far and above the dealers," Wresche says. When Phil Naylor retired in 2008, he sold the dealership to Joseph Gilmour and Benn Gilmore, who in turn sold to the Troy-based Suburban dealership group in 2012.
Imperial and Plymouth are now defunct, as is former neighbor Mercury. But Sesi Lincoln (and Mazda and Volvo) is still in business, though it moved to the Jackson Rd. auto mall in 2011. Suburban Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram also moved there, in 2016. Suburban used the Naylor building for a while as a body shop, then put it up for sale.
"There are very few mom-and-pop car dealers in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area anymore" says Thomas Saxton, a longtime Buick salesman, predicting that "there won't be any in the future."
Sesi's W. Stadium dealership was torn down and replaced by a CVS drug store. A similar fate could be in store for Naylor's unique building.
Smith became resident architect in Sunriver, a new town development in Oregon, and later at Sea Ranch, a world-renowned development near Sonoma. He still lives in California and still does some design work.
Asked what he thinks of the Naylor building's current state, he answers in one short sentence: "It's a mess." It remains to be seen whether a future buyer will find a new use or tear it down.