Sunday, August 24, 2008

sunday drive: flint college and cultural center

My little hometown of Flint, MI is famous for many things- the hometown of Buick, the Beecher Tornado, the All American City award of 1954, and most recently, being named the third fastest dying city in America. Less recalled today is that was also the birthplace of General Motors.

In 1958, as part of the Golden Jubilee Celebration, which was a year long commemoration of GM's 50th Anniversary, the College and Cultural Center opened. GM millionaire philanthropist C. S. Mott donated 30 acres of lush acreage adjacent to his elgant Applewood estate for the center, and construction of an adjacent college campus.

The plaza itself, dedicated to GM founder Billy Durant, and the first buildings were completed when the center was dedicated in 1958, with the balance following by the mid-sixties. The architecture was sleek mid century modern, with severely plain brick walls and generous aluminum cased windows and detailing. The buildings were closely related to each other architecurally. Most utilized courtyards and had stone screens to conceal mechanical needs. Even the lettering was consistent- aluminum in the identical font helped tie the structures together. And there were several- The Bower Theater and the Longway Planetarium opened first, followed closely by the Flint Institute of Arts, the main Flint Public Library Branch and my favorite, the Alfred P. Sloan Panorama of Transportation. The Whiting Auditorium and the Flint Instutute of Music followed closely thereafter, in comtemporary sixies fashion.

Here is the cultural center of my childhood. Many school trips, weekend trips with my parents, theatrical events, and car shows. To this day it remains the site of the national Buick shows when they return home. And what a setting it is. Virtually untouched until 2003, it has recently suffered a well meaning modernization at the Flint Institute of Arts which, while somewhat in the spirit of the original, diminished and disturbed the continuity of the original design.

But most are untouched. The sixty foot domed Planetarium is delightfully intact, as is the Bower theater with fabulous canopy and a most amazing ornamental design on its upper wall surface. The Sloan has become less automotive over the years (no idea why) and more ephemera inspired, but at least the structure is intact. The most recent addition, the Buick Heritage Center, we will be visiting soon.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a trip of 1930 miles and way, way back to my childhood, please enjoy the Flint College and Cultural Center:

1 comment:

Randall Gearhart said...

Thanks for sharing the Flint pics. Those sure bring back some memories.

If you haven't happened upon it already, you might enjoy checking out a website created especially for all us folks who were born and raised in Flint and have since moved far away.

It guaranteed to bring back a memory or two--or more--of a special place that, for the most part, no longer exists in time and space, but only in the minds of those who once dwelt there.