Eaton' Soap

Immediately next to where the Screw Works used to sit in the Atwater District, stands a group of three buildings from 1450 to 1490 Franklin Street that were built from 1892 to 1925, and represent some of the best unused industrial architecture that area of Detroit has left to offer. 

Photo from Google Streetview
I just can't argue with old brick and wood-beam warehouses, so in I went.

The easternmost section, 1490 Franklin, is the reinforced concrete addition built in 1925. I have an old document that mentions several of these old warehouses in the Atwater (or "Rivertown") District, entitled The Engine Works, An Adaptive Reuse Study in the East Riverfront Area, Detroit, Michigan, which was done by Landmarks Planning, Inc. in 1980 and mentions these buildings' histories.

The older two brick buildings at 1450-1460 Franklin were designed in 1892 by Detroit architect Richard Raseman, who also designed the Kaiser-Blair (Oslo) Building, and the Harmonie Club. I am not sure what architect designed this concrete structure however.

There was quite the intriguing scene in here...I admit that I was probably one of the first people to crack into this place in many years, and it was sort of like an unexpected time capsule of old graffiti and weird props. There were no recent tags anywhere, and no evidence of vandalism or scrapping.

I found a bunch of small flyers scattered in one of the rooms that indicated this place was once used as an industrial-sized haunted house called "The Fright Factory," much like the Erebus haunted attraction in Pontiac. There was no date on the flyers, but I'd judge it to be from the early 2000s.

It was billed as the "Largest and Most Frightening" haunted house "ever," at 35,000 square feet, in "the Old Stone Soap Building." It was put on by Jeff Davis of New Franklin Partners, and Rick Portwood of the Display Group, as a benefit for the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.

At the time the Engine Works study was written in 1980, the planners asserted that these buildings were too far from such planned developments as the "Linked Riverfront Parks" and the Detroit Drydock Engine Works, to be included in the East Riverfront redevelopment plans. Considering that none of those aforementioned redevelopment plans ever came to fruition until now—35 years later—I'd say it might be worth taking another look, since these old buildings are becoming more and more desirable every time another one becomes wrecking-ball bait.

Wandering into the middle building, I was greeted by the lovely scent of old mildewy timber.

These older two sections were built for Theodore H. Eaton & Son Co., which operated a chemical and dye wood storehouse here. Theodore Horatio Eaton was a businessman who came from New York and made his fortune here in the chemical and dyestuffs industry beginning in 1838, according to their company history, and whose grandson went on to build the 34-story Eaton Tower on Grand Circus Park by 1927 (now known as the Broderick Tower). 

According to Detroit historian Clarence M. Burton, a man named Rufus Wheelwright Clark got a job at Theodore H. Eaton & Son in 1900, and became partner in 1906. Burton also mentions by the way that the Eaton and Clark families had intermarried in 1888. When Theodore Eaton Sr. died in 1910, the company became Eaton-Clark, and later still the Eaton Chemical Corp. (not to be confused with the better-known Eaton Spring Co. or Eaton Axle).

This property was purchased from Stanley Imerman by Ralph and Rosalyn Stone in 1979 according to The Engine Works, who I take it were owners of the Stone Soap Co., which was founded in Detroit in 1932. I don't know where exactly in Detroit they got their start, but according to their website they are still around today, based in the suburb of Sylvan Lake.

It goes on to say that Stone Soap Co. is "America's oldest car wash chemical manufacturing company"...a claim which seems to check out. They began however by manufacturing commercial detergents for laundries and restaurants, branching into the carwash business in the early 1960s when automated carwashes were still a budding industry.

Stone Soap invented several products that have since become standard for both self-serve and automatic carwashes, including pressure-wash detergents, rinse aids, spray waxes, and multi-colored foam shampoos. They have also produced liquid soap for health clubs.

Today Stone Soap Co. are innovating environmentally safe, "reclaim system compatible" products for the auto wash industry, and the world's first carwash training academy..."This remarkable facility trains car wash owners and managers to maintain their wash facility and produce a consistently clean, dry, shiny car for their customers."

A 2011 article in Crain's Detroit Business says that Stone Soap also recently developed a nonlethal, grape extract-based bird repellent called Avian Control, which is designed to keep pest birds away from places such as airports and garbage dumps. They also came out with an odor control chemical for garbage dumps as well.

Why do I get the feeling that we will soon be catching a whiff of "grape," "bubblegum," or "new car smell" whenever we drive past landfills now?

Stone Soap is still shown at this address in the Michigan Manufacturers Directory as late as 1996, so I'm guessing they moved out at some point soon after that, and the aforementioned "Fright Factory" moved in.

Again, this place struck me as kind of a time capsule of 1980s to mid-2000s graffiti styles, depending on what floor you were on, which led me to think that maybe when the Fright Factory haunted house wasn't operating, raves and other parties may have been held on certain floors of these buildings over the years. Other parts may have been subleased as studios as well.

Up toward the top I started to see evidence of serious decay, despite the factory's overall good condition.

This elevator is about as old school as it comes:

Everything in this old place was wooden, and it creaked most pleasingly as I moved around.

Arched windows on the 3rd floor:

The rear of the Croul-Palms House, with the Greektown Casino tower rising above it:

"Best Motown Act In Town":

Don't mind if I do...

Old bracing for lineshaft gear on the ceiling?

 Top floor:

The view of the river was very decent indeed, and you can see the Walker Distilleries over in Canada. As a matter of fact I could also smell its pungent malty odor very strongly today as well.

The top floor wasn't looking all that sturdy, but in order to reach the roof I braved it nonetheless, carefully choosing my steps:

Looking east:

Very decent fireworks-viewing spot for sure. I imagine that pretty soon developers will be clamoring to turn this place into lofts and a roof deck, that I won't be able to afford to live at. Better enjoy this while I can...

Here is the rear of the Yondotega Club:

Meanwhile, back in the more modern concrete sections of the 1490 building, here were the former offices of Stone Soap, I presume:

Ha! Now this is swag...

$tone $oap, bitchiz!

There was also this unexpected library of VHS tapes, mostly relating to General Motors promotional or instructional videos, if I recall correctly.

This low-ceilinged area was probably warehousing space, and might be one of the reasons why it was deemed unsuitable for residential conversion back in 1980.

Can't beat this view though:

Of course, the view of the river does depend however on the fact that there are no more buildings left standing for about three blocks in that direction.

On the way out I decided to check out the basements of the c.1892 buildings, as an afterthought...yunno, just in case there were any smuggling tunnels down there.

Nope, no smuggling tunnels down here; just a lot of mildew and efflorescence.

I love looking at the old stone foundations of these brick buildings though.

"The Lofts at ______"...?

Photo from Google Streetview
Redevelopment plans for this property were announced in October 2017.

The Engine Works, An Adaptive Reuse Study in the East Riverfront Area, Detroit, Michigan, by Landmarks Planning, Inc. (1980), p. 22-23
The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Vol. 4, edited by Clarence Monroe Burton, William Stocking, Gordon K. Miller, p. 555
The History of Wayne County and the City of Detroit, Michigan, Vol. III, by Clarence M. Burton, p. 674-681
Michigan Manufacturers Directory, 1996, p. 176


  1. Nailhed,

    You can add two of the Detroit Screw Works (DSW) photos to the Eaton building article. The 2nd photo from the DSW article shows the back of the three Eaton article buildings, albeit at a very acute angle. Far more significantly, the photo above the broken TV/RenCen picture is the rear of the 4 story brick warehouse. Near the upper left corner is the bottom of the 'ON' from EATON. You can still see the EATON in Google Street View from Atwater, but 2/3s of the rear wall of the top two floors is gone. - Bill H.


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