City considers fate of Packard graveyard in middle of Lawrence

This 2012 file photo shows 15 deteriorating Packard automobiles in the partially fenced-in backyard at 1106 Rhode Island.

The Packard brand of automobiles has been extinct since the mid-1950s, and now Lawrence city commissioners are being asked to put an end to perhaps their largest Lawrence resting grounds as well.

City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will start the process of declaring the property at 1106 Rhode Island unsafe and in need of demolition.

“The property presents itself pretty much as a junk yard,” said Brian Jimenez, the city’s code enforcement manager. “There is really no other way to describe it.”

Fans of the late Packard automobiles — big boats of a machine that once were among the most luxurious of American autos — might see the site as a rare opportunity. The property, which is just east of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, has 15 deteriorating Packard automobiles in its overgrown, partially fenced backyard.

“I’m not a car guy, but I think they probably still have some value to collectors,” said Jimenez.

If not, they at least still have a story. An old garage on the property still has the sign of “University Motors,” which research shows began serving as the city’s Packard dealership in the mid-1940s.

The property is owned by the estate of Raymond Barland. According to a 2004 obituary for Barland, he and his brothers Delmar and Leroy started University Motors in 1947. Old phone books indicate the dealership was in the 700 block of New Hampshire Street into the 1960s.

How the cache of cars ended up at 11th and Rhode Island isn’t clear. Brian Barland, a son of Raymond Barland, didn’t return phone calls for this article. City officials aren’t sure how the cars ended up there either, and at this point they’re more interested in how they’re going to be removed from the site.

“The situation at the property right now is a pretty significant issue from a code standpoint,” Jimenez said.

Commissioners at their Tuesday meeting won’t take any final action to order the vehicles’ removal or to demolish the abandoned house and other structures. Instead, commissioners will set May 15 as a public hearing date to consider the issue.

Determining how to deal with the houses and sheds on the property may end up being a larger issue than ordering the old cars to be removed. The house, even though it is in bad need of repair, is still considered a “contributing structure” to the North Rhode Island Residential Historic District. As a result, the city’s Historic Resources Commission will consider the future of the property at its April meeting. But as Jimenez said, historic resources commissioners generally don’t like approving the demolition of a historic property without first seeing a replacement plan.

Jimenez said the Barland family hasn’t presented to him any replacement plan or plans to rehabilitate the property. Although the city has the legal authority to declare the structures unsafe and order their demolishing, they don’t have the authority to force the property owners to build new structures on the property.

“We might run into a quandary, so to speak,” Jimenez said. “If the current owners don’t have the ability to rehab it, we still won’t want this property to continue to sit there in its current condition. We’ll just have to wait and see how the Historic Resources meeting goes.”