‘In the name of progress’

A piece of local history on the way out as dealership renovates

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 1, 2017

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — A piece of history will come down this year when the Roy O’Brien Ford dealership on Nine Mile Road and Greater Mack Avenue continues its renovations with the removal of  the original building, which dates back to the early 1900s.

Mark O’Brien said that the building was originally home to a Hupmobile dealership, an automobile built from 1909 through 1939 by the Hupp Motor Car Co.

After that dealership moved out of the building, it was turned into the Fire Department for the area, before it was incorporated as St. Clair Shores in 1951.

“Our father (Roy O’Brien Jr.), his first job was to board up the pole holes ... because they lived upstairs and they had an opening from the second down to the first floor,” Mark O’Brien said, explaining that Roy O’Brien Jr. was 17 or 18 years old at the time.

After the Fire Department moved out, the Holzbaugh Ford dealership moved in, selling vehicles until Ford shut down production during World War II.

“There were no new cars being produced,” Mark O’Brien said.

Instead, the Ford Motor Co. was retooled to help build for the war effort, which created tension between Henry Ford and his son, Edsel Ford.

“If Edsel had not fought against his father, the Allies might not have won that war,” Mark O’Brien said. “They came to the aid of the country and the world by helping defeat the Nazis.”

It wasn’t until the end of 1945 that the O’Briens took possession of the building, which was a two-story structure spanning from the current showroom door off the Nine Mile Road parking lot east almost to Greater Mack Avenue.

“When that war ended, they had to retool all the factories back to car production,” he said. That is when Roy O’Brien Sr. was able to purchase the building and open his dealership, where it has been for the past 71 years.

Mark O’Brien still has his office in the same location that his grandfather did when he opened up the dealership, when Nine Mile Road was still dirt.

“At that time, car dealerships were just getting off the ground,” Mark O’Brien said.

During renovations to the showroom 21 years ago, the O’Briens found places in the first-floor ceiling where firefighters had signed their names and written notes when the building was used as a fire department, as well as the location of the slide from the second floor to the first floor.

But with the approval of the second amendment to the site plan for Roy O’Brien Ford at the Feb. 6 City Council meeting, that piece of history will be gone.

Shane Burley, of Studio Detroit, told City Council that the original renovation plan already called for 30 feet of the building on the corner of Nine Mile and Mack to be demolished, and that they have now decided to demolish all of the remaining showroom.

“This building has been added on to a number of times over the years,” he said. “We can get a better product, much safer product, if we start from the ground up.”

Glass will wrap around both sides of the showroom, which will have more space with the new configuration.

City Council approved the amendment Feb. 6.

“It’s all in the name of progress and getting everything state of the art,” said Mark O’Brien. “I think both (our) grandfather and our dad would be supporting us on the decision. You have to stay with the times. You want to have a very clean and exciting environment.”

This is the second phase of renovations to the dealership, which recently completed an eight-month remodeling of its service department.

“We’re going to transform this area, which is a little bit dated now,” Mark O’Brien said. “Tell the world that we’re here to stay. We’re not planning on pulling up stakes and moving anywhere.”

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