The museum building located at 1600 South Wayne St. in Auburn, Indiana was once the national headquarters administration building and company showroom of the legendary Auburn Automobile Company. The new administration building for the Auburn Automobile Company took a year to build starting in 1929, but was worth the wait. Architect A. M. Strauss of Fort Wayne designed the building, constructed at a cost of $450,000.
In November 1930, work was finished on the “building of stylish beauty complete in all details,” as that month’s issue of The Accelerator, the company’s in-house publication, heralded its opening.
- The original two-story U-shaped building is glazed art brick and tinted limestone on the outside and art deco grandeur on the inside, which included 66,000 square feet of floor space. Fourteen large plate glass windows with two-foot high gold letters elegantly proclaiming “Auburn,” “Cord,” and “Duesenberg” enclose the display room of over 12,000 square feet. Twenty-two light fixtures and 72 sconces flood the display room at night with light. The building consists of two floors and a mezzanine between them
- According to the 1930 The Accelerator, “products of Auburn and subsidiary companies representing a total valuation of over $75,000 are on display. Seven Cord front drives, one Cord chassis, eight Auburns, one Duesenberg Town Car and Duesenberg chassis make up the automobile display. In addition there are displayed a Stinson 4-place cabin plane, Lycoming motors of various types for aircrafts, automobiles and trucks; Spencer Heaters and Auto Prime water pumps. A Cord body skeleton and cut-a-way views showing the working parts of Lycoming motors are very popular with visitors. Through the courtesy of the Dodge Boat Corporation of Newport News, Va., a 16-foot, four-cylinder Dodge motor boat is on display. While Dodge Boat Corporation is not a subsidiary company, they are using Lycoming Marine Engines exclusively, ranging from four to twelve cylinders in their boats.”
- All office partitions are Philippine mahogany and plate glass. Soundproof rooms contained the multigraph, teletype, telegraph and telephone switchboard. The Experimental Laboratory was not the largest, but it could not be surpassed for its modern and up-to-date completeness. Two dead level floors for testing the alignment of a chassis are still visible.
- While other companies spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on large proving grounds, Auburn engineers could give their cars practically any kind of test under greater stress and strain than it would receive in actual driving conditions. A Belgian Road Machine shook and twisted cars so forcefully that five hours was equal to 5,000 miles of road testing. Auburn Automobile Company felt it set the pace in the industry because its work was copied year after year.
- After the Auburn Automobile Company filed bankruptcy in 1937, businessman Dallas Winslow bought the building in 1938 for $25,000. Winslow’s business was buying out failing companies whose products enjoyed popularity or success. He acquired an inventory of auto parts and retained some of the Auburn Automobile Company workers to rebuild engines and later do full restorations of the Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg motorcars.
- Winslow added a storage area inside the J-shaped building in 1943. He sold the business in 1960 and died in 1963. His estate continued to own the building, leasing it to a garment warehouse, motorcycle repair shop and fiberglass camper factory.
- Auburn Automotive Heritage Inc., a not-for-profit organization of local citizens, purchased the deteriorating building for $105,000 in January 1974. After much volunteer elbow grease and an additional $108,000, the building opened to the public on July 6, 1974, as the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum.
- The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, but the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Facility was given its highest designation of all in 2005, as that of a National Historic Landmark. The facility was given this honor as the building represents one of the last surviving examples in America of hand-built cars, not mass produced automobiles. Many of the cars on display in the Company Showroom once started out on a drawing board on the museum’s upper level where Auburn Automobile Company’s design department was located.
The museum embarked on a major renovation project in 2000 to create a banquet hall, meeting rooms, an educational area, new gallery space and improved catering and event space. The new event area opened in April 2001.
Free-spanning Willennar Hall accommodates over 800 seated guests, auditorium style, or 512 dinner guests with a state-of-the-art sound, lighting and technology system. The stained concrete floor mimics the colors and geometric patterns of the museum’s showroom floor. The Auburn meeting room will seat 52 and the Cord room, 48, with the dividing wall folding back to create the Duesenberg Room, with seating for 120. The new space also features two permanent bar areas, a lobby, cloakroom, and restrooms and catering kitchen. A glass block wall and lighted entrance lead the way into the educational area on the mezzanine level. Level III accomodates 14,000 square feet of automobile gallery space.