By Harry McCawley
Arvin’s iconic Model A statue is finally back home. It might be located a football field or so from where it had originally been placed, but it’s back where it belongs.
The bronze sculpture, depicting a young father inflating a flat tire on the vintage auto and looking bemusedly at his son in the driver’s seat pretending to be steering the car, was returned earlier this year to the campus off 13th Street that was once home to the corporate headquarters of the late and lamented Arvin Industries.
A lot has changed in the 26 years since the work of art by renowned sculptor J. Seward Johnson Jr. was placed in the brick roundabout separating the old and new corporate headquarters for the Fortune 500 firm. It was to be officially dedicated during a meeting of the company’s board of directors in the summer of 1991, but in an embarrassing development, the unveiling ceremonies had to be postponed after a motorist plowed into the statue, causing major damage.
The incident was especially disheartening given the emotional attachment to the city and the company. It harkened to the beginnings of the company in 1919 when Bartholomew County native Q.G. Noblitt joined forces with other investors to form the Indianapolis Air Pump Co. The statue was representative of the firm’s first product.
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It also referred to the city’s history. One of its neighbors was a 19th-century brick structure that in its early days was Fire Station 2. In its beginnings firefighters responded to alarms on horse-drawn engines.
Two other neighbors were linked to the history of the company in Columbus. One was the former Arvin headquarters on 13th Street. The other was the “new” headquarters — a reconfigured and vastly expanded brick structure that in the 19th and early 20th centuries was Garfield School.
The statue seemed to round out the campus — a symbol of the linkage between the company, the community and the educational system. That linkage began to unravel in 2000 when Arvin Industries Chairman Bill Hunt announced the company had entered into a merger with Meritor Inc., which was headquartered in Michigan.
One of the first signs of the changes to come was the decision to locate the headquarters of the combined companies in Michigan and to adopt a new name — ArvinMeritor. Initially, the existing manufacturing facilities of the old Arvin remained in Columbus, but over time that status changed as ArvinMeritor divested itself of local properties.
The last and most painful straw came when Arvin was dropped from the company’s name. Facilities that for so many dedicated employees were always associated with the Arvin name now had new owners.
By this time, the Model A sculpture had been moved from its old location to the company’s Walesboro facility. Fortunately that facility was operated by an old Arvin subsidiary, Faurecia, one of the few links remaining to the old Arvin Industries.
In the meantime, the old Arvin headquarters complex had also undergone a great deal of change. The older headquarters building was converted into a facility housing a number of United Way organizations. The new headquarters building was sold to Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and repurposed into a new administration facility for the school corporation.
At first the Model A statue in its new location at Walesboro was put on outside display, but public access to it was limited. Eventually company officials moved it to an inside facility to refurbish it after several years of exposure to the weather.
Cognizant of its importance to the community and the desire to make it more easily accessible, Faurecia officials joined hands with several community organizations to return it to its original home. Funding for the restoration of the statue and its placement back on the old Arvin campus came from several sources, including the Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation; the Heritage Fund, the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County; and the Arvin Industries Foundation.
Moving the statue was coordinated by a steering group that included Steve Forrester of BCSC, adviser Harold Hatter, Dan Perry of Repp and Mundt, and John Jaffe of Faurecia Clean Mobility. They decided to place the statue in an area to the south of its original location.
While it has a new home, there are vestiges of its old resting place in the form of the brick pavement that had been in the original roundabout. Plans call for an ornamental metal fence to be erected around the artwork.
Due to the changes that have taken place over the past couple of decades, the statue is in something of a new neighborhood. Never mind. It’s back home again.