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SOUTH BEND OR BUST
South Bend, Indiana

getaway-chicago logo This destination was a lot fun to investigate, but the trip to South Bend was one for the books. On an early morning in May, the Getaway Guys boarded the CTA in Wilmette bound for the South Shore Station in Milenium Park. Despite frequent outbursts denouncing the CTA’s deplorable service, Alan had assured Neil they’d be on time for the 8:09. southbend1After enduring almost 1 ½ hours of slow poke progress and Alan nervously checking his watch every 5 seconds, the Guys missed the 8:09 by 5 minutes. They returned to Wilmette, retrieved Neil’s Scion X-b Getaway Car and drove to South Bend!  So much for public transportation and carbon foot prints.

The Guys had three primary objectives in going to this Indiana city on the St. Joseph River. They wanted to check out the Snite Art Museum at Notre Dame University, which Neil had often enthused about, and they wanted see the National Studebaker Museum. Having raved in their piece called "Internal Combustion" about the incredible Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana they wanted to compare it to South Bend’s National Studebaker Museum. And last (but not least) they wanted to visit a botanic garden called Fernwood which sounded very interesting and wasn’t far from South Bend.

southbend2Their first stop, the Snite (www.nd.edu/~sniteart) was a stunning choice.  One of the Midwest’s stellar art collections in a university setting, this museum has a lot of diverse and first rate stuff. From pre-Colombian artifacts, to a handsome assortment of arts and crafts furniture, to choice 19th century European works, to a good number of  early 20th century American pieces and contemporary works as well, the Snite offers a good in-depth teaching collection to Notre Dame students and South Bend residents alike.  As would be expected, a portion of the collection is devoted to paintings and sculptures with a Christian theme: lots of saints and martyrs, art that appealed to Alan more than Neil. About the Arts & Crafts furniture they agreed, about the early 20th century American paintings they were split down the middle, and with regard to the contemporary works Alan didn’t get it, while Neil thought much of it rather interesting. The Getaway Guys have divergent thoughts about art. An early 19th century pick for Alan was “Ruined Building with A Gate,” Francois-Marius Granet (oil on canvas, 1832). southbend3southbend4A favorite of Neil’s was a Roman theatrical mask dating from about 300 A.D. Of the more up-to-date works, Alan thought Walter Sickert’s “Offices of the Morning Post” (oil on canvas, c.1880) very nice (Neil agreed), however Neil thought Edward Henry Potthast’s early 20th century work, “Ring Around the Rosie” (oil on panel) a better choice for “best of show.” Typically, Alan thought differently.

Over at the Studebaker National Museum (www.studebakermuseum.org) the guys were more in sync. Both are old enough to recall Studebakers and as teenagers, each knew someone who owned one.  (No, Neil didn’t know Stanley Steamer owners.) Comparisons are inevitable during most getaway-chicago trips, especially when visiting institutions of the same ilk. The National Studebaker Museum isn’t the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. First, the Studebaker museum isn’t housed in a restored, Art Deco corporate showroom and secondly, the ACD company built vehicles out of the mainstream, like the unusual Cord and the very expensive Duesenberg. Additionally, ACD cars were legendary by the time Neil and Alan were aware of cars, but Studebakers were around a lot when they were growing up.southbend5

Essentially Studebaker built sensible, mass market cars and not until the early 1950’s, when it was nearing its demise, did it do something radical by introducing Raymond Loewy’s sleek “Champion” hardtop. It’s been said, however, Studebaker didn’t follow through. Instead of making a convertible model of this elegant vehicle, this South Bend stalwart came out with a four door clunker. (The Chevrolet Corvette and the Ford Thunderbird debuted a year later and captured the American sports car market.) Trying to stay alive, Studebaker merged with Packard.  A 1920’s-30’s luxury icon, Packard had by the early 50’s begun to produce some of the worst looking cars in automotive history. From this shotgun wedding emerged the Grand Tourismo Hawk, a hybrid nobody bought. (Of course, Alan thought it was groovy -- he would!) Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Studebaker was also building the Lark (perhaps the least sexy car in America). Instead of going for the sleek “Italian look” of the Loewy Champion line, the boxy Lark was introduced. An early entry into the compact car niche, the Lark (after some success) didn’t have a chance once the Big Three followed suit. Lastly, the Avanti appeared in 1964.  Again South Bend came up with an avant-garde winner, but it was hardly off the southbend6drawing board and into production when Studebaker went out of business. But the Getaways Guys didn’t go to South Bend, Indiana to do an analysis of a famous American brand name. They went to see a very good collection of restored automobiles and other artifacts related to a company in business from the days of Conestoga wagons to the Interstate Highway System. The collection is very comprehensive and well laid out. The time line is easy to follow and the automobiles on display are stunning. Those old enough to appreciate the Studebaker name will be surprised by the diversity of the company.

The National Studebaker Museum shares a building with southbend7South Bend’s Center for History (centerforhistory.org), which is adjacent to Copshaholm, the 38 room mansion of J.D. Oliver and his family. The Olivers made their money in plows, and the last Oliver occupant of the house donated the dwelling and its contents to the city. A tour of the Oliver Mansion starts with a walk through  a restored 20’s-30’s worker’s house furnished with the accoutrements of average, early 20th century living and ends with a protracted walk through of the Oliver Mansion. The Guys felt as though they were in an episode of Upstairs-Downstairs. The lifestyle contrasts were remarkable: the occupants of the worker’s dwelling might have owned a Studebaker, while the occupants of the Oliver dwelling probably drove a Duesenberg!

From the Loop, South Bend could be one day trip by car or public transportation, but the question with the latter is how to get downtown from the eastern terminus of the South Shore Line  southbend8(www.nictd.com) at the airport? Other than a rented car or taxi, the Guys didn’t know. Riding the South Shore (previously owned by Sam Insull [see "Where the Woodbine Twines," July 2008]) is an inexpensive and quick way to get to South Bend, but it isn’t annoyance free. The conductors are less than forthcoming with information; between Chicago and the Indiana Dunes, construction delays abound and the schedule isn’t as user friendly as one might want. On the up-side, the thing is fast (beyond Hammond), reasonably comfortable and a gas from the past.

The Getaway Guys made this a two day trip so they would have time to visit Fernwood in Niles, Michigan. Less than an hour from South Bend, Fernwood  (www.fernwoodbotanical.org) is a botanic garden devoted essentially to native plants. Established in 1964 as a public place (previously a private getaway for Kay and Walter Boydston), this serious endeavor has some green house space, but it’s primarily an outdoor adventure in a setting along the banks of the St. Joseph River. The Guys were there in May when things were starting to bloom, but they returned in August and, bang-o!, what a difference three months can make. (For more details, The Getaway Guys wrote about Fernwood in their October piece called "4 For a Tank.")southbend9

During their first trip to South Bend the Guys had dinner at Volte Restaurant (www.volterestaurant.com) in downtown, a restaurant suggested by the staff at the Snite. The service was good, the décor pleasant and the food acceptable, but not mind-blowing. Prices were reasonable. During their second trip Neil and Alan had lunch at Tippecanoe Place (www.tippe.com), the former mansion of the Studebakers. In a sprawling stone edifice not far the Studebaker National Museum, they had a pleasant meal surrounded by elaborate woodwork in what probably was a former sitting room. Aside from an aura of wealth and prominence in the community, little evidence of the automobile family remains. Tippecanoe was suggested by folks at the Center for History. November 2008

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