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FDR's limousine, Shah's vehicle made at Ellicott site slated for demolition

Property headed for demolition on the northern edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus was designed by architect E.B. Green and also has ties to auto history.

About a handful of parcels on the site were home to Buffalo-headquartered Brunn & Company, an auto body manufacturer that helped build Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidential limousine. The company also custom built a car for the Shah of Persia on the site.

These historical nuggets surfaced through research into the former Osmose Holdings site at 980 Ellicott St. by members of the Buffalo Preservation Board, according to Timothy Tielman and architectural historian Frank Kowsky.

"There are segments of the Brunn factory that will remain, but some would be demolished," Tielman said.

A company connected to BNMC Inc., which oversees the campus, proposes demolition of the site.

Even if the full demolition proceeds, the Brunn paint and carpentry shops would remain, he said.

The Preservation Board already granted permission for demolition for about 85 percent of a section that represents about a quarter of the total site. The exception is the brick home at 980 Ellicott that is believed to have been designed by Green.

Earlier in April, the Campaign for Buffalo, History, Architecture & Culture got a temporary restraining order in state Supreme Court to spare demolition of the house. The matter is back in court June 5.

The Preservation Board is trying to secure local landmark status for the house.

Research shows Brunn & Co. was commissioned to custom build a car for the Shah of Persia in 1929. And there were other vehicles built between 1908 and 1941 on parcels controlled by Brunn at the site behind the Green house.

Post-World War II, the Playboy Motor Car Corp. of Buffalo built what was described as "a cute little automobile" between 1946 and 1949. The two-seat coupe was designed with the intention of being that "around-the-town second car." It featured America's first retractable hardtop convertible. The company made 97 cars prior to closing, and none was offered for sale to the public.

All this history at the former Osmose site has Preservation Board leaders thinking harder about the historical significance of the site and the demolition. The city has issued a demolition permit.

"All the factory buildings wrapping around the house were Brunn offices," Tielman said, noting the 980 Ellicott address for the Green home is the same address listed for Brunn & Co.

"We regret the demolition decision, but given the new information, we are exploring whether that approval can be reversed," Tielman said. "It indicates that maybe while research is going on, maybe we shouldn't do any approvals. That's why it is so important to review demolitions through the Preservation Board."

Brunn supplied custom bodies to Lincoln throughout the late 1930s, and dealers for Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Reo and Cadillac occasionally ordered Brunn bodies as well.

Brunn left its mark in 1937 on a Lincoln parade car for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Pierce-Arrow had started leasing cars to the oval office but Edsel Ford wanted a Lincoln in the president's garage. Brunn built the four-door convertible sedan and it was painted presidential blue. The car included forward-facing jump seats, reinforced extra depth runningboards and a couple of step plates at the rear of the car. The roof was built extra high so the crippled president could enter and exit with ease.

Our presidential limousines received a bit of a makeover recently. What do you think of the new barriers?

Posted by The Henry Ford on Thursday, December 26, 2013

The presidential limousine was dubbed the "Sunshine Special" by the press and the 9,300-pound car continued to serve the White House for several more years, accompanying presidents on overseas and domestic journeys.

Another notable Brunn creation at the site was an almost entirely handmade white Pierce-Arrow town car commissioned by the Riza Khan, the Shah of Persia in 1929. It had 18-carat gold-plated interior fixtures plus gold brocade upholstery, according to the Coachbuilt website. Other high-end amenities of the day included a carpet of Russian wolf hound, handcarved woodwork, a diamond-studded cigarette case and gold-plated smoking accessories.

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