The new car smell is long gone, but hints remain that the almost 50-year-old Alfred Rubin Riverwalk Community Center began its life as Colonial Motors, a Buick/Pontiac dealership.
Standing across the street from the front door of the building, it’s easy to imagine what it looked like: The east end of the lower level of 305 W. Jackson Ave. had the large windows typical of automobile showrooms. The west end of that level was a storage garage that held at least a dozen vehicles.
The upper level housed the service department, with a body shop in the southwest corner, some residents from then said. They well remember the dealership when it was built in 1966.
“I repaired the first car in that building while the contractors were still in there working,” said Tom Priz, of Priz Auto & Truck Repair in Wheatland Industrial Park. Priz worked for Colonial Motors when it was in the old Brummel Motor Co. building at the corner of Main Street and Jackson Avenue and moved over to Colonial when the new building was constructed.
“When it was first built, there was a driveway on the side of the building to Jackson, but it was too steep and cars kept slipping, so they filled it in and made the driveway come to Mill Street,” Priz said.
The building has undergone several other facelifts, the most recent of which began this month as cracks in its exterior are repaired and a new layer of stone cladding is added at the base of the building. Work is expected to be completed by the end of August. The building is open and operating as usual.
Jerold Borg’s and Russ Dunkerton’s Colonial Motors opened in 1962 on Main Street, but soon after, the partners parted ways, Corrine Borg said.
“Jerry purchased a dealership in Downers Grove,” she said. “Mr. Dunkerton built the new place.”
Tom Dunkerton worked for his dad from the beginning when his dad bought the Brummel building, an old grain elevator that had been converted to a car dealership with an eight-stall garage.
“I sold a lot of cars out of there,” said Dunkerton, of California, who was in his early 20s back then. “My dad then bought the old Stenger brewery and tore it down — I was mad at him for tearing it down. There was a lot of history in that building, but it needed a lot of work.”
Bob Van Iten, who recently retired and sold Naperville’s Village Buick GMC after 41 years, originally moved to Naperville to work as a sales manager for Borg and Dunkerton in April 1962. The three had worked for the same automobile finance company in Dubuque, Iowa.
The dealership moved in early 1966 after the about $250,000 building was constructed by Wilfred Construction, Van Iten remembered. Meanwhile, Colonial Motors’ used car lot was across Jackson Avenue from the main building, at the southwest corner of Eagle and Jackson.
“During their lunch break, employees used to climb over the fence and fish in the river,” Van Iten said.
Van Iten left Colonial in August 1967 to work for Borg in Downers Grove. The building he left behind wasn’t a car dealership much longer, closing in 1970. The Buick dealership was combined with one in Aurora, and the Pontiac dealership moved to North Washington Street, where the BMO Harris bank parking lot is now. That was Village Pontiac, which Van Iten bought in 1973.
“My dad sold Colonial to some fellows from Chicago; they thought they’d make a fortune in Naperville,” Dunkerton said. “They didn’t do too well, and there was a GM car strike, so they sat there for a while with an empty building.”
The place was a mess in March 1972 when the city bought the building and employee Allan Poole moved in.
“All of the furnishings — the desks, equipment, everything like that was shoved in the garage area in the northwest corner of the building, stacked 10 feet high to the ceiling. It stayed there for the longest time — there was some dispute over who owned the furnishings,” said Poole, then the director of water and wastewater utilities.
“My office was the little glass enclosure, an 8-by-10-foot office where the sales manager for the dealership sat,” Poole said. “I didn’t have a phone or anything; I had to walk down to 175 W. Jackson where the city manager was to use the phone.”
Poole literally moved into the shuttered car dealership.
“When I came here, I didn’t have a lot of money so I actually slept in the lunchroom (northeast corner of the lower level) for several nights,” he said. “It was kind of scary when the lights would come on Jackson! It was a good building for our use at the time; we were there for 10 years. There were three big bays for trucks on the bottom floor.”
Eventually, the city remodeled the building, and the former dealership lunchroom became his office. The upstairs of the building was the Naperville electric department, Poole said.
“Their trucks pulled in above where the service department had been and the heavy electric trucks cracked the floor. My office was right below, and we had to vacate the building,” he said.
The building’s structural problems were resolved in 1983, and the city began looking for a new home for the utilities while promising the park district could eventually use the building as a community/senior center. That handshake deal was put in writing in 1987, according to a Naperville Sun article. A long-term lease was finalized in late 1989.
The building was renovated and opened as a community center in 1991. It was renamed the Alfred Rubin Riverwalk Community Center five years later, honoring the Naperville native for his 41 years of service to the city, including 12 years as a park commissioner, and tenures on the Naperville City Council, Riverwalk Commission and Naperville Elementary School Board (before the formation of Naperville School District 203.)
These days it’s home to the park district’s New Horizons senior programming, early childhood programs and dance classes. The building was created the same year — 1966 — as the Naperville Park District. The cars might be gone, but it’s still a well-suited match of driver to vehicle.
Joni Hirsch Blackman is a journalist and author of “Downtown Naperville.” Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.Tags: building memories