Detroit’s Packard automobile plant is slowly yielding to the wreckers in preparation for a new use for the land. The Detroit Packard factory was first constructed in 1903 as a complex of one- and two-story brick and timber buildings, designed by brothers Albert and Julius Kahn. At the time, the brothers were in a partnership that combined architecture and engineering in a single firm, a highly unusual arrangement for the era. Albert provided the architecture skills and Julius, a civil engineering graduate of the University of Michigan, the engineering skills.
In 1906 Packard added a tenth building to the complex, designed by Albert Kahn. This structure was constructed of reinforced concrete, being the world’s second concrete auto factory. (The Cadillac Motor Car Co. factory at 450 Amsterdam St. in Detroit was the first.) All subsequent multi-story buildings were constructed of reinforced concrete, while most single-story buildings were of steel. Nearly all buildings within the complex were designed by Albert Kahn’s firm.
Packard Motor Car company sales grew and the company continued adding buildings and adding floors to existing buildings to increase production capacity. The size of the plant expanded from two acres of floor space in 1905 to over 33 acres by 1910 and nearly 60 acres by 1916. Also in 1916 the last of the original brick and timber factory buildings, dating from 1903, were demolished.
In 1909 the company expanded on the south side of Grand Blvd, constructing a power plant and a two-story service building that manufactured and stored spare parts for Packard cars (building #27 on the southeast corner of E. Grand Blvd. and Concord Avenue). An addition to the service building the following year (known as building #28) changed it from an “L” shape to a “U” shaped structure. In 1911 a third story was added and then a fourth story in 1917.
Bridge over Grand Blvd.
Continued growth and the introduction of the moving assembly line eventually forced Packard to convert the service building to the assembly of car bodies. In 1939 a bridge was built across Grand Blvd. to allow completed car bodies to be transported along the assembly line from the former service building to the main plant where they were joined with automobile frames.
The bridge differed in appearance from numerous other bridges connecting buildings within the complex in that it had a decorative façade. This was due to a city requirement that, as the bridge passed over a major thoroughfare and was highly visible, it must have an attractive appearance.
The bridge over Grand Blvd. represented a reconfiguration of the interior arrangement of the Packard complex; construction of multi-story factory buildings had largely ended by 1918. The last major addition to the plant designed by the Kahn firm was the 1940 construction of a large one- and two-story building for Packard’s aviation division, (located adjacent to the railroad tracks west of the main complex and south of the Edsel Ford Freeway).
Packard Shuts Down
Packard ceased operations in the factory on Grand Blvd. in 1956, idling 11,000 workers in the process. About half of the now empty plant was leased out to various corporations for manufacturing and warehousing. In 1999 the city, believing that it owned the property, evicted the tenants in preparation for demolition of the plant by the state. A subsequent legal battle resulted in the city losing its claim to ownership of the plant. With no tenants and legal title to the facility in question, the abandoned structure continued to deteriorate.
In 2022 the city finally seized the property and completed demolition of one building on the north side of the plant complex. Beginning in January of 2023 the city demolished building #28, the 1910 addition to the service building. Unlike most of the complex, buildings #27 and #28 are owned by the city. It is believed that building #27 will be kept intact for historical reasons, along with the former Packard offices facing it on the north side of Grand Blvd (also owned by the city).
Final Days of Building #28
Below are photos taken of the 1910 addition to the Packard service building prior to its demolition
Below are photos taken during the demolition of the service building addition on January 31, 2023
By Michael G Smith. Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.