Nash dealership opened on eve of Great Depression
Fire is last chapter of tragic tale that began with high hopes writes Dale Johnson
The fire that destroyed the Travellers Building on Broad Street between 11th and 12th Avenues last month was the final chapter in a building that once was the home of one of Regina’s poshest — and shortest-lived — car dealerships.
When the Travellers Building opened on Wednesday, October 9, 1929, the ground level was the new home to A.B.M. Motors. The grand opening was marked with a gala dance on the second floor in the Arcadia — called “Regina’s magnificent new ballroom.”
The Travellers Building cost $60,000 and was one of many buildings constructed in Regina during the late 1920s that were designed by the prominent architectural firm of Storey and Van Egmond. Other buildings they designed include the Balfour Apartments, the Frontenac Apartment, Scott Collegiate, Balfour Collegiate, and some buildings along College Street that now are part of the University of Regina.
A.B.M. Motors was Regina’s dealer for Nash automobiles and Stewart trucks.
Nashes were beautiful, luxurious automobiles. The firm was run by Charles Nash, who had risen from childhood poverty to become president of General Motors. But by 1916 he had a falling out with GM boss William Durant. So he quit, bought the Thomas Jeffery Company, and soon was building a car with his own name on it. Production increased from 10,000 in 1918 to 130,000 in 1928. Nashes included such features as dashboard starter buttons and shatterproof glass.
Stewart trucks were manufactured in Buffalo, N.Y., from 1912 to 1941, and for a time had a Canadian plant in nearby Fort Erie, Ont. Stewart trucks were known for their quality, although they were never volume sellers and never posed a threat to Ford, Chevy or Dodge. They were popular with prairie farmers looking for a high-quality truck.
The three people behind
A.B.M. Motors were George H. Armour, Robert J. Baird and S. Crawford Murray.
George Armour, born in 1890, was the son of Hugh Armour, one of Regina’s pioneers and most prominent business people. Today, there is a street and a subdivision named after Hugh Armour. George Armour, who had been working with the provincial government, signed up for military service with the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. He served overseas, was wounded three times and held as a prisoner of war for 10 days. He returned home to Regina in 1919 and rejoined the provincial government. In early 1929, with the economy booming, he decided to get into the car business.
Robert Baird had been a firefighter in Regina before joining the army during the First World War. He was seriously wounded and transferred to England, where he spent time at a convalescent camp. He returned to Regina in 1919, and rejoined the fire department. In this position, he pushed for getting motorized fire trucks to replace horse-drawn equipment. Baird became so fascinated with motor vehicles that he left his job with the Regina Fire Brigade to join Duncan Motors, Regina’s Pontiac dealer in the late 1920s. He then decided to go into business with two other men and start A.B.M. Motors.
Samuel Crawford Murray had been in the car business for several years in Regina. Most recently, he had been a district service manager with Ford in Saskatchewan. Murray was president of A.B.M. Motors in advertisements for the new dealership when it opened in temporary quarters at 1611 Broad Street a few months before the Travellers Building opened on October 9, 1929. But tragedy stuck on
Sept. 28, 1929 — just days before the new dealership opened — when Murray died at the age of 30, leaving a young family.
A.B.M. Motors was the newest dealership in a city that already boasted 19 other dealerships.
On October 29, “Black Tuesday” — less than three weeks after A.B.M. Motors went into business — the stock market crashed.
A.B.M. Motors went out of business less than a year after it opened. Armour soon left Regina, while Baird stayed in the city and sold cars at various dealerships during the 1930s.
The building became a GMC truck dealership for a couple of years. Then it became Kerr Motors, which sold Graham automobiles. The building saw a variety of tenants over the years, including Auto Electric, Group Medical Services, Radway’s Lumber, the Regina bus depot and the Saskatchewan Motor Club.
The Arcadia Ball Room survived and continued to occupy the second floor throughout the Depression and Second World War. Then it was subdivided into offices, including Dunn and Bradstreet, and the Wartime Housing Corporation, which became Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
More recently, the Travellers Building had been vacant for years. It had been boarded up and was deteriorating, and became home for birds and animals.
It’s too bad that it had not been restored to its original beauty; and imagine if an automobile dealership had moved into the main floor. It’s a trend in other cities to have car dealerships locate in the downtown core. Usually they are branches of existing dealerships, so that storage and service is done in larger facilities in suburban areas. But to have a small showroom with three or four vehicles downtown can make good business sense. For example, Fiat has a showroom in downtown Saskatoon, in a section of what was once the Bay store.
In downtown Regina, several former car dealerships are still standing and have been converted into other businesses: the Wheat Pool Building at Albert and Victoria; Vintage Vinyl on 11th Avenue; the red brick building at Rose and 12th, and the Donahue building at 11th and Lorne.
Imagine if one of these buildings someday again is a place to buy a car. As well, there are plenty of other buildings in downtown Regina that could be converted into car dealerships.
It’s too late for the Travellers Building — but perhaps someday downtown Regina will be home to car dealerships again.
The sad ending to the Travellers Building came on a cold March evening. Flames did most of the damage; the wrecking ball finished it off. It was a quick and violent end for the building, in stark contrast to its grand opening almost 90 years earlier, with dancing and celebrating above the new home of a luxury car dealership during the prosperity and optimism of the Roaring ’20s.
The end for the downtrodden Travellers Building came after last month’s fire.