Good-bye to 120 East Liberty

Matt Tierney
vile-gossip

When we popped the champagne cork on 2012, celebrating a full year of producing monthly singing, dancing versions of Automobile Magazine on the iPad alongside both the monthly magazine and the pretty much hourly updates at automobilemag.com, we never considered one very important thing: that we would run out of space and have to move from our aerie in downtown Ann Arbor. Yet, after twenty-six years, 120 East Liberty has grown crowded. So, we are outta here.

Just when I finally got my office cleaned.

This is our last week in the bosom of downtown Ann Arbor before we move to our plush new digs south of town. I'm leaving on a business trip tomorrow, so it's actually my last day and the last time I park on the sixth floor of that godforsaken parking structure. No more scaling the massive, bone-jarring speed bumps -- four per level! -- every morning. No more wrestling the luggage, the briefcase, and the bags down the narrow staircase and up the block to work, sometimes in heavy snow. Yes, friends, the weekday car show on the sixth floor of the East William parking structure is moving. At our new home, every test car gets its own curb just steps from the front door. The luxury!

Our founder, David E. Davis, Jr., couldn't have picked a funnier little place for a national car magazine than 120 East Liberty, a nineteenth-century brick building anchoring the corner of East Liberty Street and South Fourth Avenue. When David E. started Automobile Magazine, he took the entire second floor and created a square around a square. The outside was comprised of a warren of offices, where every writer had a door and a window. Mine looked out on the adult bookstores of Fourth Avenue and their upper-floor "working girls," who were often seen hanging from their windows in lingerie, shrieking at customers on the street below. Good times! They were replaced years ago by boring offices and Aunt Agatha's mystery, detective, and true-crime bookstore. The art department missed this view. Inexplicably, they occupied the center of our space, which was completely walled in and devoid of natural light.

Five years ago, we tore down every wall we could and moved the art team to the northern wall of windows, which meant they all needed space heaters under their desks. Actually, everyone needed space heaters. Our historic building was so drafty that if you taped yarn all over its brick walls, it would look like you were in a wind tunnel. I came into my office one cold winter day and found a little pile of snow in the corner. I looked up along the wall and could actually see blue sky through the chinks in the brick.

So many pilgrims passed through here: kids on the way to college (often with starstruck dad in tow), fans on vacation -- some with appointments but many who just boldly strode in and hit the elevator button for the second floor. It was funny to see their universal shock at just how boring the inner workings of an exciting magazine can appear to be. No go-kart chases in the hallways, just a lot of people sitting at computers and writing, editing, and designing. Or thinking about writing, editing, and designing.

We've hosted heads of most of the international car companies here on the second floor and flown in barbecue from Corky's in Memphis. Once, the Prince of Barwani -- a renowned car restorer (and prince) in northern India -- came to call. The late David Halberstam stood in our kitchen, as have other prominent contributors, such as P. J. O'Rourke, Dan Gerber, and poet Jim Harrison, along with TV crews from every major network.

One fine Saturday morning, Jen Misaros and I brought Jerry Seinfeld to the office after a tour of the Henry Ford Museum. He stood outside the little awning over the discreet door to the small elevator lobby and held back for a moment. "Come on, in here," I said. He looked at me with a slow smile. "I can't believe I'm here! I can't believe I'm standing in front of 120 East Liberty!" I can't believe we're really leaving.

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