I had heard rumors of what lay within this unsuspecting storehouse; that it contained old airplanes, tanks, classic cars, not to mention some ancient artifacts found in the Detroit area, or that related to the city's own past. Such as Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac's own diary, or junk along those lines. Nowadays, with the city's municipal bankruptcy putting its contents on the auction block and in the newspapers, it is simply known to most people as "the building with the cars in the bubbles."
The deceptively bland exterior belies the reality of its interior. It is truly a different world. It is like stepping into Willy Wonka's factory for the Detroit history buff. Normally this facility is not accessible to the public.
It had been decked out with red carpet and tableclothed tables full of hors d'oeurves and other such frilly froo-froo things for an event (the red car is a 1924 Huppmobile roadster):
But within this hall were not only crates, but rows and rows of climate-controlled bubbles, containing rare and antique artifacts relating to Detroit's history, mostly cars--many of which belonged to famous personages. For instance, this is Henry M. Leland's personal car, a 1905 Cadillac "Osceola":
Leland was also responsible for the publicity stunt in which three Cadillacs were disassembled and their parts all mixed up in a pile...then reassembled by three mechanics, and all three cars started & ran fine. It was a demonstration to the Europeans that the Detroit style of manufacturing and interchangeability of parts was the most sound and economical method of car making. He also asked Charles Kettering to invent an electric starter motor for the Cadillac engine, another industry first. Leland left GM over a dispute over war production (Durant was a pacifist), and founded Lincoln Motors to build the Liberty V-12 aircraft engines. After the war he built luxury Lincolns, but became insolvent in 1922, at which time Henry Ford bought the marque, exacting his revenge on Leland for the creation of Cadillac, by lowballing the sale price at $8 million. Leland eventually resigned.
The '05 Osceola was Cadillac's first enclosed-body car, designed under the supervision of Fred Fisher; Leland had it made to explore the idea of a vehicle closed to the weather. It ran on white gas, and was donated to the museum in the '50s by his niece, Miss Miriam Woodbridge. Henry Leland also invented electric barber's shears. I am not sure what the story is on the motorcycle.
The white car seen below is a 1973 Lincoln Mark IV, built at the Wixom Assembly Plant. It is a modified production car built especially for Lee Iacocca, who was president of Ford Motor Co. at the time:
There was even some architectural treasure in here:
The lifeboat to the Dodge brothers' famous yacht, the Delphine:
A 1987 Cadillac hearse, custom built at Fleetwood Body:
Old primitive traffic signals from Detroit streets...recall that the Detroit Police Department pioneered the use of the streetlight:
Here is the clock mechanism to old City Hall if I recall correctly (the bell resides elsewhere at the fort):
Vintage Detroit Fire Extinguisher Company...they are still in business, on 14th Street:
If this flagpole base is from the original Fort Pontchartrain, it could be much older (the first fort was built in 1701). I find it amazing that something like this still survives into modern times, and this was in my opinion perhaps the most interesting item to be found in the whole building. The plaque's inscriptions chronicle important events in Detroit's history starting with the first visit to the Straits by the French in the year 1610, up to the retaking of Detroit from the British in 1813.
Ironically enough, the reason only the base of the flagpole survives is allegedly because when the Detroit Fire Department was being formed, they were scouring the area for any long, straight pieces of wood they could get for the building of ladders. This story has some gaps however, because the DFD was not officially formed until 1860. Even though there were independent fire companies operating in the city prior to that time who might have been on the lookout for good wood, Fort Pontchartrain no longer existed; in 1779 that fort was abandoned when the British garrison moved into the newly built Fort Lernoult (and the entire city burned down in 1805), though it is likely the old flagpole from Fort Pontchartrain was moved to the new fort. Coincidentally enough, the location of Fort Pontchartrain was in the same area where the DFD's c.1920s headquarters now stands.
Sources referenced for this piece:
How Detroit Became the Motor City, by Robert Szudarek
Automobiles in Storage at the Collections Resource Center, by Adam Lovell / Detroit Historical Society