World War II - 1970s
During World War II, Checker, like many local firms, used its workforce and facilities to help the war effort by making artillery trailers and parts for other defense contractors. After the war, Checker moved into building private passenger cars and introduced the Superba sedans and station wagons in 1960. These vehicles were only a half step away from the design of the taxi. They became quite popular and are now collector's items. In 1964 the company introduced the Checker Town Custom Limousine.
The U. S. State Department turned to Checker Motors for more suitable transportation for its diplomats overseas. It purchased two four-door sedans in the Marathon deluxe series for use in Moscow and San Salvador. The move came about after U. S. Ambassador to Moscow Llewellyn E. Thompson wrote Washington that his big limousines were "...not suitable for the cobblestones and rough roads encountered in the Soviet Union." It also was hard to buy high-octane gas for them. Another advantage was that Thompson could get in and out of the Checker limo without removing his top hat. The new limo looked like a cab painted black, but the inside featured such extras as gray broadcloth upholstery, air conditioning and a glass partition so the driver wouldn't overhear the passengers' talk.
Markin not only built taxis and limousines, he provided vehicles for Parmalee Transportation company, of which he was chairman. Parmalee operated limousine service between Chicago's many railroad stations and to the Chicago airports. It also controlled taxi operations in Pittsburgh and Minneapolis. At one time Parmalee operated cabs in New York City, but it sold its licenses there for $8 million in the 1960s.
On the Big Screen
In 1978, Hollywood came to Kalamazoo to film a major motion picture, "Blue Collar." The film was set in an auto assembly plant, and all the Detroit car manufacturers refused to allow filming in their facilities. Checker Motors opened its doors, and the film, starring Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto and Ed Begley, Jr., made the crime drama a reality. Many local people appeared in the film as extras.
The Legacy of Checker Cab and the Markin Family
Although the last Checker Cab rolled off the assembly line on 12 July 1982, the company is still in business manufacturing parts for other automobile makers.
The Markin family has left more than memories for Kalamazoo, however. David Markin, Morris' son, and an avid tennis player, donated the monies to erect the Markin Racquet Center on Kalamazoo College's campus. It serves as indoor practice and performance space for tennis teams and houses the United States Tennis Association (USTA) office and the Western Tennis Association Hall of Fame.
Another legacy is Markin Glen Park, the former homestead of Morris Markin. Upon his death in 1970, 16 acres of his property became a city park called Maple Glen Park. The city hoped to develop Maple Glen into a year-round municipal park with an emphasis on winter sports, but due to budget constraints and vandalism, the city closed the park in 1977. Later the City of Kalamazoo sold the property to the county, and a group that became known as the Parks Foundation commissioned a master plan for the park. The park's west side was developed and opened in June 1994. In April 1997 Maple Glen Park was renamed Markin Glen Park to honor the history of the land and the Markin family's continued support of the park.