Sunday, January 6, 2013

Northern Neon: The Lost Facade of Don Wheaton Chevrolet

In early 2010 I was in Alberta, Canada visiting a friend. While we were in the capital city of Edmonton he showed me Don Wheaton Chevrolet-Buick-Cadillac-GMC Ltd., a dealership which has been in business in the same location on Whyte Ave since 1963. The building had undergone few changes in its 40-plus years and had been considered a fixture of the neighborhood. Even in 2010 it had retained its Oldsmobile and Camaro signage. Despite the vintage exterior, Wheaton's dealership was the largest GM distributor in Western Canada and one of the biggest sellers of Corvettes in Canada.

Photos by Jay Wollenweber

In 2011, though, progress came calling. General Motors in their infinite wisdom demanded that Wheaton modernize to the bland new corporate dealership look or risk losing the new car franchise. People complained, but GM prevailed. Wheaton renovated, removing all of the old neon signage and refacing the building. They included some neon on the corner of 82 Ave and Whyte, comprising the corporate logo, and the old signs on the roof remain because the building is a city landmark. It's not all bad - the service department is finally modernized and enlarged, the rooftop inventory lot is improved and the showroom is all new inside. Allegedly the corner sign is a replica of the original 1963 dealer sign (albeit a rather ugly one in my opinion), and plans included restoring the rotating "CHEV" sign on the roof which had been stationary for years. Renovations were completed in September 2012. But otherwise the dealership has lost much of the retro flavor made it unique among GM dealers. It's just as well. Don Wheaton passed away shortly after Christmas in 2011.

Photo courtesy Don Wheaton Chevrolet

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