Packard: 2003-2005

All photos scanned from 35mm film, taken between 2003 and 2005.
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The Packard Plant...the name alone is infamous enough. One of the world's most notorious abandoned structures. Certainly one of the most foreboding-looking. Definitely one of the biggest. The sight of it coming into view as one drives east on I-94 is ominous. It appears as a dark, rugged mountain range slowly rising higher on the horizon as you approach. A horrid black mass of stained concrete and broken glass, it stands gaping and hollow, the ultimate symbol of the Motor City's downfall.

It certainly looms large in my own memory; as a person who has probably been in several hundreds of abandoned buildings in his life, I have spent more time at the Packard than any other ruin, and I have more photos of it than of anything else. Somewhere around 3,500 photos spanning from 2003 to 2014. The massive undertaking of simply sorting through them all, and somehow being able to distill all my experiences and memories from the legendary Packard Plant into writing is what has kept me from producing a post about it until now.

I know this might come as a shock to some of you who remember the Packard only as a ravaged, windowless concrete husk held together by its layers of spray paint, but when I first started exploring it in 2003 there was very little graffiti and plenty of windows. And the structure was in pretty good shape. There were even two functioning businesses still operating inside the plant, and the city's "security guards" were still stationed at the front gate. I was a little young (and apparently not hanging out with the right crowd, since I was more of a Harpo's metalhead in the 1990s) so I never made it to any of the infamous Packard parties, but at least I can say I remember how it looked back then. You might remember it from a bit part in the movie True Romance.

Here's something else that might blow your mind: the first time I got into the Packard in 2003, we had to basically break in. This was way before you could go there and be guaranteed to have a way in. Once we had the door open, we had to climb on some pallets through a stairway that was well barricaded to keep people from coming up it. There was also word that a Rottweiler was on the loose, and it had been an issue the first time around. On our way out later, we saw the carcass of the same dog, dead on the sidewalk, apparently for weeks. This meet-up between myself and two other people was organized on the old Yahoo group Metro-Detroit Urban Exploration, which was started by my friend, who I refer to as "Chisel." It was the beginning of a circle of friends that saw and endured some pretty crazy sh*t over the past 20 years together. Chisel also started the now-defunct website, in 2004.

The Packard is considered by urban explorers, electronic music fans, architectural students, and classic car enthusiasts to be a Mecca of sorts; a place of origination—for their respective fields of interest, "where it all began." The plant was the location of early underground raves that helped make Detroit the birthplace of techno music in the 1980s and '90s. There is even a track entitled "Pakard," by the artist Plastikman, in homage to those early acid raves he DJ'd there, a piece that duplicates the creepy vibes of the old plant. It is also viewed as an icon from an architectural / historical standpoint, being the prototype of the modern reinforced-concrete super factory, designed by the famous Detroit innovator, Albert Kahn.

If I'm not mistaken it was also the first time that an entire auto-manufacturing operation was housed entirely under one roof, presaging Henry Ford's move to bring every manufacturing process in-house, "from ore to auto," at the Rouge Plant a decade later. It became the standard pattern for factories worldwide, and the innovations it pioneered are still being used today. Packard Motors was a company that crafted fine luxury automobiles of such a high quality that they were almost without rival. Though they went out of business long ago, surviving examples of their cars fetch incredible sums of money today, and are considered the pinnacle of American automotive style and opulence, prized by classic car collectors. And for Detroit-area explorers like myself, the plant was considered "Level 1;" as in you weren't really an explorer until you had been through the Packard.

The vast, ruined complex is 7/10ths of a mile long (we measured this with the odometer in my friend Chisel’s car), and covers 40 acres. The photos in this post will take you in through the southern end, and explore toward the northern end. Most of the buildings are four to five stories tall, but there are some that are seven or more. It has a network of underground service tunnels, and two ancient, rusting watertowers that are visible for miles.

This "alley" running up the center of the plant is actually Bellevue Street. This first building, with the Art Deco-style architecture, is Building 92.

You might notice a pale bluish hue to some of the black & white photos, such as this next one. Those are the ones that I shot on TMax 400 film, whose cold blue look and graininess I thought went along perfectly with the frigid atmosphere of the Packard...

Sadly I do not have a negative scanner, or any high resolution copies of these images, because the texture of some of these photos is off the charts. Again, when I originally digitized these photos in 2005, I did so by laying the prints on a flatbed scanner in a public computer lab underneath CMU's Wightman Hall in the middle of the night. I then uploaded them to Photobucket, which in 2005 was a good free hosting service, but since then they have compressed my images practically beyond recognition. Now that Photobucket has imploded I have had to re-download them and in some cases dig out my old prints and take a new photo of them with my current digital point & shoot camera, since I don't have a scanner, and Photoshop the new image. So, long story short, a LOT has been lost in "processing," lol! 

Don't worry, my next post from 2006 will mark the beginning of my digital photography years, and things will look much better.

The mysterious appeal of the Packard almost defies explanation; it is no more than an empty concrete shell, yet it holds a powerful grip over the mind of the explorer. There was just something about it that kept pulling you back in. Perhaps it was the bizarre state of the place, the complete randomness of its disorganization that fascinates. Only there could one ever hope to find wooden motorboats adrift on an endless sea of red interior-doorpanels from a thousand Ford Mustangs.

Perhaps it was the lingering fear in the back of your mind that if you died here, no one might ever find your body. Perhaps it was the fact that you were basically in a no-man's-land, a jungle, where the rules and laws of the outside world meant little. Perhaps it was the confusing, labyrinthine setup of the place that caused everything to look familiar, like you'd been in that part before, yet...unfamiliar like you hadn't.

The architecture of the Packard is bewitching...even in its bare, modern minimalism, it has a memorable effect on the mind. It is labyrinthine, and yet formulaic; a confusing array of skywalks connect upper floors across the deep chasms between buildings. The generic "Kahn-cube" design seems to eventually numb the senses, as do the infinitely-repetitive rows of thick concrete columns.

The place has such a cold, barren feel that it is almost anodyne, and the smell is unforgettable. Everywhere is the permeating reek of automotive fluids, having soaked into the wood-block flooring for decades. And on most days the cavernous corridors of the behemoth plant are filled with the unnerving, half-explained crashes, rattles, drips, and other noises typical to abandoned factories that can be heard suddenly breaking the surrounding silence. If you stand on the roof and take in the sprawling complex spreading out as far as the eye can see, you'll hear all kinds of noises emanating from the dead buildings when the wind blows through them like a sieve.

The Packard was part of a vast industrial wasteland...shattered glass and shrapnel littered the street, dead fire hydrants stood without caps, and the sewer grates were stolen for scrap. It became the poster image for Detroit's tattered reputation in the late 2000s, and the icon of everything that was lawless and apocalyptic about it.

That's the view from the 4th floor of Building 92, looking north across the vast necropolis that awaited your wandering footsteps...

...and this was only the southern half.

In order to get to the rest of the plant from Building 92, you had to cross the Bellevue Bridge:

On one of the levels of the Bellevue Bridge, there used to be an old rusty steel roll-down door that was broken in the down position, and in order to go across the bridge you had to have a friend help you pull it back while you rolled underneath, and vice versa. Sometime around the scrapping bonanza in 2008, the door disappeared. I bet you forgot about all that!

Just across the bridge, the corridor took this little jog:

To the left was a bathroom and an elevator shaft. I wish I had a better photo of the old-school bathroom stalls that were in the plant, but apparently I was more fascinated by the pipes of the one from the floor above...

Building 38, top floor, heading toward the main corridor along Concord:

Many of the things to be found lying about in the endless halls of the plant were automotive-related. There were several derelict vehicles inside various parts of the plant, many of them trucks or cube-vans, but also forklifts, an RV, a panel delivery truck, and plenty of boats. There was even at least one example of a wooden-hulled Kris Craft motorboat stripped and left behind. Kris Craft was basically the nautical equivalent of Packard; a maker of fine speedboats, many of which were powered by Packard engines. They were made famous by the notable Detroiter Gar Wood, who raced them back in the day, setting speed records on the Detroit River, in Kris Craft powered by multiple Packard V12 engines.

There was also a crazy rumor that somewhere in the basements of the plant, there are vaults that contain several pristinely preserved Packards, forgotten and left behind after the plant's closure. While I guess it's plausible that such a thing could happen (considering some of the other things that have been left behind in Detroit!), I never found anything like that, and I searched every basement and tunnel in the complex.

The only abandoned classic cars that I knew of at the plant were the 1946 Plymouth, and a totally disassembled 1954 Buick in the north end. Its "Nailhead" V8 motor sat nearby under a tarp, awaiting my return with a cart (spoiler alert: I never was able to grab that motor, but guess where I got my screen name from?). There was also a mangled '64-'65 Mustang (see eight photos down), some kind of motorcycle, and a chopped up '73 Lincoln body.

You are old school if you remember the couple spots that were partitioned with these heavy steel screens...this was a weird nook on the 2nd floor of Building 38:

On the inside of a huge fire door near there, someone had glued an old flaky page from a magazine, showing a late-1950s Packard...

Building 37 on the left, 38 on the right:

Same spot, one floor down:

As one walks around the plant, there are numerous side-corridors to be seen that often contain one certain type of debris, mysteriously specialized to that particular corridor. For instance, there is the paintball corridor, where the Splattball City paintball course tossed all their empty containers of paintballs for years, mounding the boxes almost up to the windows. Then there's the car-collector-literature corridor, the doorpanel corridor, the splintered-wood corridor, the styrofoam corridor, the busted-TV room, the Shoe Pit, and the clothes room—a place near the tallest part of the plant that contained several 15-foot-tall mountains of discarded clothing, almost as if the Salvation Army had secretly dumped it. Other rooms look as if a flea market threw up in them. There was one stairwell in Building 1 or 2 I think, that had stacks and stacks of aquarium glass leaned up against the wall at the bottom of it. The randomness and absurdity of these sorts of things was what made the Packard the Packard back then.

This is inside the "court" between Buildings 37 and 38, one of the one-story shed-type buildings:

Although it's not actually numbered on Sanborn maps, it says these buildings were part of the Packard truck plant, involved with body and machining work "on all floors."

Inside was the wreckage of a 1965(?) Mustang:

The super-sexy Art-Deco piers of Building 92, seen above Building 34:

The toxic super-moss growing on Building 33, underneath the southern water tower...

I accidentally ate some of it one day and that's how I gained my super powers of climbing ability and sarcasm. Speaking of the southern water tower, here it is showing the faint shadow of the old Packard logo script, traced out in rust behind the more recent MONEY / THOR graffiti:

That's actually another thing about the Packard Plant that I can say has changed a lot—the graffiti. It used to be that pieces were simple bubble or block letter with three colors at most...and at least two of them were black and white. Around 2008 Detroit musta moved up in the world because murals started getting way fancier. Not that I have much to say, since it took me about 12 years to finally develop a throwie that was not completely laughable.

Moving through Building 35, looking over the shed roofs of Building 34:

Now in Building 35, beginning the long, straight northward trek along Concord:

One of the design flaws of a factory that was laid out in rows of wings branching off of a single main corridor like the Packard was that moving between the far ends of buildings was inefficient. So many of the buildings have been joined on their western ends by small skybridges, like the double-decker you see here between Building 31 and 32:

One of the fun things about navigating the Packard was knowing which buildings had bridges, and which floors they connected (and which ones weren't sealed off or unsafe to walk on). As you'll probably hear me say plenty more times, navigating this plant was not easy in the early days, because all the windows and walls hadn't been knocked out yet, and you couldn't see everything around you at all times.

Luckily I had played Dungeons & Dragons a lot, so I knew to remember which doors were locked in which stairwells, which floors connected to other floors, and so on. I eventually memorized the entire above-ground portion of the plant; the only thing that I never quite got a 100% solid grasp of was the tunnels and various basements, but I was still pretty damn good down there.

The Palmer Avenue bridge is seen above; traffic was able to pass through the plant under this three-story section. This was what the 3rd floor looked like over Palmer:

A hole in the wall of Building 28 where a lot of the boats were stored...I think the business was called JRD Marine?

On the 2nd floor there was even a fridge (in the room to the right in this next shot) that still had some rotting food in it. I specifically remember a pack of bratwursts that had gotten really ugly. There was also an old can of Civil Defense Survival Crackers sitting here, which is how my two friends and I got the idea to call ourselves "the Survival Crackers." That was the genesis (in 2003) of an exploring group that later became known for some pretty impressive and amusing antics. I've never mentioned that before on this website, and I only mention it now for contextual completeness, since after 2009 it had become something else, and I severed my affiliation.

One other must-see stop on the old school tour was the small switch room, if I recall correctly, on the 2nd floor of Building 35. There were three such switch rooms in the plant, featuring the big "Frankenstein" switches controlling electrical power to various parts of the plant. Sadly I did not get good photos of them until later years (stay tuned).

The court between Building 27 & 28:

Standing on the skybridge between Buildings 27 and 28, with Palmer Avenue visible at right:

Third floor of Building 27, looking toward the Boulevard Bridge:

Approaching the "Boulevard Bridge," leading to the administrative wing of the plant, Building 13:

In an article in The Packard Cormorant by Leon Dixon, he recalled that at night "you could actually see the shadows of the swaying bodies of the cars" through the windows of the "Packard Bridge" as they rode across it on the conveyor. Apparently this was a major landmark and point of pride for the city's East Side.

This bridge recently collapsed into Grand Boulevard. Here it is with its roof, support girders, and all windows still intact.

Because of this bridge (and the guards being stationed within view of it), the second floor was the explorer's main artery of travel through the plant without having to go outside. You could walk on top of it from the 3rd floor if you wished, back when it still had a sturdy roof, which would put you directly in the company president's office, but you had to climb through the windows.

The ground level of the plant was subdivided into so many different units that had been leased out in its last days, that the walls between them made it impossible to travel the first floor from one end of the plant to the other, like you could on any other floor. As a result most explorers stayed off of the first floor, which also meant that it stayed more intact on average than the other floors. A general lack of windows that weren't bricked up also made the first floor very dark, which was another reason people generally avoided it.

The facade of Building 13, the office and administrative wing of the plant:

The company name, graven in stone above the entrances:

The entire stone entryway was disassembled in 2009 and shipped to the Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio, where the company was originally founded.

Unfortunately this is one of the few photos I have of the executive offices from the early days before the glass was all smashed out, and the rich oak paneling taken during the c.2009 salvage operation:

For awhile you could purchase some of the reclaimed old-growth white oak and fir boards from Authentic Packard LLC, but it seems their website is now offline so I guess that's over. Besides the wood and the stone entryways, the rescue operation included several cornerstones from key buildings, and even the pisser from the president's office.

Here is my friend (and Packard enthusiast) Kurt, posing proudly in the darkened ruins of his Mecca:

These shots also show the brass bannisters that were still fully intact back then. Sadly I don't have any closeups of it in this group of photos.

Here is the old A&P grocery store (later USA Foods) viewed from an office can even still see the old "Heidelberg Dot" that used to be on it:

Remember, the grocery store sits now where the Packard's huge power plant used to stand with its towering smokestacks. There was also once a "Packard Bar" (not actually owned by the company) which used to stand nearby at Mt. Elliott & East Grand Boulevard, I think where the party store is now. Fittingly, that store was where I purchased many a 40oz beer prior to "starting my shift" at the plant.

The clock—still intact—and the Packard grille-shaped keystone of the bridge:

In case you don't believe me...

There were no less than three walk-in vaults on the second floor of the offices wing. They were all wide open...

Inside, a set of fancy spiral stairs went up through a hole in the ceiling to another level. Well, actually, in one of the vaults the stairs had been removed, leaving just the hole:

Guess which one still had stuff left behind? Don't worry, I did eventually climb up into the other one, but you'll have to wait until a later installment for that.

Here you can still see some of the last scraps of actual ornamentation that adorned the walls and coffered-plaster ceilings of the Packard Motor Co.'s business offices. Although it had been painted over, the finely carved walnut paneling is still intact around the elevator lobby here:

The executive bathrooms were in good shape, snazzy light fixtures still hanging:

There was actually also a shower room on the other side of the wall behind this large mirrored counter:

To us, getting pictures in this spot (below) meant being in ULTRA stealth-mode, because the city guards' office was just a few feet away from us. We were so close we could hear them talking, so we had to step very lightly...

Since navigating the first floor was so difficult in the early days, seeing the inside of the steel-trussed "courts" in between the numbered concrete buildings was somewhat rare. Usually you had to go outside and find a way back in. They were almost always very dark and dank inside, which made it even rarer to get a good photo of them. Judging by the shape of the roof monitor, I'm pretty sure this is Court 1, right behind the office wing, where my friend Chisel found a pile of blueprints to the plant in 2003:

Obviously this was one of the very first things I wanted to find, but again, seeing as it was *right* next to the guards' station, you had to be in super stealth to go there, and be ready to run. The blueprints weren't originals, and I think they only detailed renovation work done in the 1950s, but they were still pretty cool. I think there was some other interesting stuff there, like a safe or something, that never got messed with because of being so close to the guards, but I can't remember.

Here is Court 1 seen from above, looking toward the cafeteria skybridge:

At the western end of the office corridor, there was a big open window on the third floor right above the guards that allowed for this magnificent view looking north along the rest of the plant:

Here, let me zoom that a little more for you. You can see the old Plymouth still sitting there at left. On the right is Building 5, Building 4, Building 10, etc. At the extreme end of the shot is the watertower of the Associated Spring Plant, which I recently also explored:

There was one more salient feature of the office wing, and that was the "Skylight Room." It was right on the corner of Concord and the Boulevard, looming directly over the bridge.

The Sanborn map says that it is the 5th floor of Building 12, and that it served as a "photo gallery." Interesting. It seemed like an odd space for hanging photos, but perhaps the purpose was actually for the taking of photos...a prototype car could be driven in here from the plant and the massive north-facing skylight windows could have provided good indirect lighting for studio photographers looking to avoid the harsh glare, contrasts, and shadow of outdoor and direct-light shooting? The translucent panes in the skylight could have also helped give just the right diffusion of light to soften things up.

In any case, for us it was one of the good "lounge spots" of the plant while exploring. There was also an old bench seat from a car sitting in there that made a good place to sit while sipping your 40oz. and sparking up that blunt. We even had small campfires and BBQs in here a few nights too, before the windows started getting broke out and the rain started coming in. The view wasn't as good as from the Pyramid, but it was definitely a cool spot, and a must-see stop on any tour for out-of-town friends.

Next photo shows Building 12, 3rd floor...If you'll recall, there was a large bank of wooden windows along the lefthand side that overlooked Court 2-12, and the "Shoe Pit":

In this view from Building 11, you can see why we called Building 5 the "Pyramid":

Here is the famous 1946 Plymouth that sat derelict on the grounds, in the distance:

One of the main attractions of the Packard Plant (at least in the early days) was how there was this old Plymouth sitting out there. Most people just assumed it was a Packard, but it wasn't. My guess is that the car once belonged to one of the classic car storage / restoration businesses that was kicked out of here when the city evicted all the tenants, and for whatever reason this one didn't quite catch the last chopper out of the evacuation zone. Apparently it wasn't easy to track down all the cars' owners in the rush.

Getting up close to it was risky, since you had to step out into the open, in full view of the security guards, who would instantly spring into action and yell "Hey you!" and stuff like that, before starting up their car to come chase you down. So you pretty much had to be quick about getting your photo and then having a plan on where to dip into the buildings or tunnels about ten seconds later. That might explain why I chopped mine off at the knees, lol:

The last time we ever got up close to the car was in 2006 when our friend Devnull came out to visit from Gary, Indiana for the first time. Having had a couple brews, and being in the mood to impress, the five of us strutted out from the shadows quite confidently, expecting a reaction from the guards, while Dev got his photo. I vaguely recall standing on the roof or hood of the car, and then getting the idea to toss the contents of the glove box before we had to burn adrenaline toward the nearest tunnel entrance. Good times. That was the only time the guards came close to catching us. They were actually within spitting distance before we split up and evaded their grasp. I am not sure what ever happened to the old Plymouth, but I think I remember it moved closer to the guards at some point, and then it just disappeared one day around 2007.

Here is a typical shot of an older factory wing (possibly Building 1 or 10)... can tell by the wooden sash windows. Look at all the original light fixtures still attached to the ceiling! That was one thing about the plant back then was you could still see so many of those old school green-enameled factory lamps on the ceiling; it actually still felt like a factory, rather than just a gutted ruin. I am happy I got a nice one from Building 15 before they all disappeared after 2007. 

This huge open room was actually called Building 2-11 and 2-12 on the Sanborn other words it was merely a roof over a former courtyard between Building 2, and Buildings 11 and 12. In the center of the room there were two bridges spanning between those buildings (I was standing on one of them to take this photo), on the second and fourth floors. This was also the location of the "Shoe Pit"...

It's hard to tell in that photo, but in the "pit" below you are looking at the top of the dropped tile ceiling of the first floor below, suspended from the trusses way up here on the ceiling. Which explains all the wires everywhere. It was quite a trip to see, sorta like a horror movie set, but it was really hard to photograph the whole thing because of the darkness. In later years the ceiling tiles fell down, and you could see the massive piles of shoes that were deposited in the area where the discount store was once located, hence the nickname, "Shoe Pit." Eventually those mountains of shoes got set on fire in the summer of 2009, and the week-long inferno that resulted from all that rubber and glue being burned (along with heavy iron scrapping) contributed to the disappearance of the roof over this massive open room. Eventually this spot returned to its original configuration of being just an alley between Building 2 and Buildings 11 & 12. The fallout shelter with the Civil Defense rations in it was right below the Shoe Pit.

Now here was one of my favorite parts of the plant to photograph, the "Canyon" between Building 5 (left) and Building 2 (right), with the two sky bridges connecting them on the 2nd and 5th floors. This was the original heart of the plant. The main switch room is also seen here, the short two-story projection on the right:

The Switch Room was one of my favorite stops, something right out of 1940s sci-fi/horror, with massive Frankenstein-esque levers and gauges, where the panels for all the buildings' electricity were located. The outside of the room was marked in huge spray-painted letters: "PCB." Sadly, you will have to wait until one of my later posts to see photos of it. There was only 24 shots on a roll of film back then you know! When you ran out, you ran out.

I really dig the drab, dreary look of the black & white film on those gray days at the Packard. It perfectly captured the mood:

At one time there was also a bridge connecting them at the 3rd and 4th floors (you can see by the doors), but those were removed:

You could also walk on top of the 2nd floor bridge, but after about 2006 or so it became too soft.

This was a strange room in Building 3 that you may remember with these square holes in the floor:

Here's another thing I bet you don't remember...there used to be a spiral staircase leading out of the switch room here:

The western staircase in Building 5 was pretty trippy, almost Escherian in a couple spots...

Where the stairs to the roof of the "Pyramid Building" there was this little skylight, over a bathroom:

The elevator motor penthouses on the roof gave you another one or two stories of height, and actually put you at the same height as the northern water tower. The view here was great.

By the way we used one of those iron stairs one night as an emergency BBQ grille to fry up some party-store hot dogs. Weed is a hell of a drug, kids. Stay in school.

From the top of the Pyramid, looking toward the south water tower:

Looking toward the north water tower, and the Tire Toss:

I'll actually show a photo of what the Tire Toss actually was in the next post.

Building 2:

Looking at Building 10 and Court 4, from Building 4:

The northern watertower soars over Court 10:

Despite almost everything in the Packard being made of concrete, bathrooms were sectioned off from the rest of the plant with brick masonry walls, and they were almost always located next to a stairwell:

I found the brick and the segmental-arch doorways to be very anachronistic and quaint in this extremely modernist plant, like a weird sentimental throwback for just when you have to use the potty.

A view out over the open space of the North End shows the empty foundations of Buildings 7, 8, and 9:

These were the buildings hastily demolished in the spring of 1999 before work was halted by a court order. Which explains why there is that "bridge to nowhere" coming out of Building 82 (at left). If you want to know what these buildings looked like, check out this picture from Camilo Jose Vergara.

The Packard was not a silent had all kinds of noises, and they made a sort of constant music—or maybe cacophony, depending on your point of view. But if you're a musical person, you could hear that they came together to make a definite sort of rhythm. This corrugated steel-clad conveyor stretching over the top of Court 15's shed roof was responsible for a lot of the creepy noises that emanated from that part of the plant whenever the wind blew. In fact I sometimes wondered if it inspired the rhythm of some of the creepy sound effects on Plastikman's Artifakts album:

In my opinion Artifakts somehow captures the essence of the Packard Plant perfectly, not just the random rattling and dripping sounds that the plant made, but it also captures the uneasy, lurking feelings of menace that you might feel when you're alone there at night. I know that when I get lonesome for the old days I can just put on that album, have a few drinks (and maybe smoke something), sniff the oily scent from the old wooden flooring block that I kept, flip through my old photos, and be transported back in time.

Looking out the windows along Concord Street, you could see some of the old streetlights that hung from the side of the plant, the fixtures easily 100 years old:

The speed governor to a freight elevator:

"The Ramps," of Building 21:

According to an article by Leon Dixon in the booklet "Packard's Detroit Factory: The Rise and Fall of 1580 East Grand Boulevard," the ramps originally led to executive indoor parking.

Following the ramps to the very top, I remember being initially surprised at the fact that one could theoretically drive a car right up onto the roof of the plant:

In fact as I recall my cousin telling me decades ago, that was where the parking lot was for the Splattball City paintball course. He battled there a couple times in the 1990s, but I didnt have enough money for a real paintball gun back then, so I never had the pleasure of joining him. That's ok, because I got to ride in the infamous camper as it was driven up the ramps and almost off the roof of the plant. If one of the front brakes hadn't locked up, it would've worked perfectly. Then someone set it on fire like a week later.

The Ramps were pretty much the furthest north you could go in the plant, unless you were super daring and broke into Building 22 (stay tuned). There was an old semi-truck trailer outside, next to the ruins of Building 23:

Well that's as far as I have pictures for the North End...let's start back south again.

Building 27, with a sign still visible on it reading "Florkey's Conveyor":

And I believe this was the cornerstone of Building 27:

I didn't know it until a few years later, but this row of buildings seen below was where Al's Place was located. You may remember him from the 101 rehashed news stories that were constantly recycled in the mainstream media about the guy living "in the ruins of the Packard Plant" after Detroitblog John first interviewed him.

Here's another building that you all might have totally forgotten about, Building 90 (also known as Building 92A)...

It was a long foundry lookin' building, but it was actually just a craneway for offloading railroad cars that could pull into the building. It was connected to the shed-type Buildings 47-52, which handled a lot of machining and body & frame work for Packard's truck division.

Because it was a steel-frame structure, Building 90 was DIY demolished by "local entrepreneurs" during the great scrapping epidemic. Its huge window sashes looked out over the old Lutheran cemetery along the train tracks.

It seemed death was omnipresent in this part of Detroit; there was no activity on the streets, and the cemetery stretches out with headstones almost as far as the eye can see. If you visit this cemetery, not only will you be greeted by the depressing backdrop of endless broken windows and cracked concrete from the Packard just on the other side of the train tracks, but there was also a big sign that warned visitors not to get out of their vehicles. I don't know if it's still there, but that's a little creepy, don’t you think?

These were the doors to the building:

Another of the "Remember When" things about the Packard was when Chemical Processing was there in Building 34, there used to be a sign on their door (seen at right, below) that said "Blow horn for service" or something like that:

There was a button on the wall by the loading dock that sounded an air horn inside the building, and then someone would come and let you in for service. Naturally, every numbskull who explored the plant and saw this sign would instinctively hit the button and be surprised when it actually caused an air horn to go off somewhere inside...and because you were so shocked that it actually did something—and that there was actually a functioning company in the midst of all this ruin—you either ran and hid, or stood there skeptically to see whether someone would answer (we fell into the latter category). Eventually they did arrive, and they were f@#$%ing pissed when they finally walked all the way to the door to find some snot-nosed kid rather than a paying customer. As I recall they had a pretty extensive laundry list of creative new cuss words to hurl at people like us, followed by promises of shotgun blasts if the horn blew again.

Speaking of long-vanished buildings, here is Building 39, where the old "TV Room" used to be:

The TV Room was a big room where there was about 40 or 50 of those huge old console television sets from the 1970s, stacked up on top of each other like some sort of art project. In fact they eventually became one...that is, the ones that survived the year that we had a steady supply of 1/4-sticks from our Colorado Connection. There was also an old F-150 parked in here. I think I have photos of all this stuff in my newer photos (stay tuned).

One thing besides the huge stack of TVs in here was the steel drums of old cooking grease (at least I hope that's what it was) that were leaking all over the floor, forming large pools of ooze that mingled with the constant flood of rainwater / snowmelt to turn your footing situation into a mucky mess if you were unfortunate enough to wander through that part of the building. The ceiling had obviously started giving way here before most other parts of the plant began showing signs of dissolution. I remember showing up one day in like early-2007 or so, and seeing Bobcats and stuff working in here, and then the next time we came back Building 39 didn't exist anymore. That was when we realized that things were changing at the Packard.

There were two cafeterias in the plant that I knew of; one in the administrative wing, and one here in this hut-shaped structure with the vents on top of Building 39 in the South End:

The processes described as being done in this section of the plant (in 1949) were "Plating & Polishing, and Heat Treating."

An old incinerator or kiln, located outside in the alley:

Here it is on my other camera, which was apparently rocking the Tmax 400...

...Not sure why I felt the need to take two pictures of it, but hey.

Inside of the craneway at the end of Building 39:

I remember one time in probably 2005 when Chisel and I were driving past this spot and could hear a loud rushing noise coming from inside. When we entered the building we discovered that the loud rushing noise was due to a massive natural gas leak, erupting from the basement. That also explained the choking odor throughout the entire neighborhood.

Back up to the roof of Building 92...

One thing about Building 92 is that the roof was in pretty bad shape, even in 2004 when I took these shots. You more recent visitors will recall that this is the building that has now almost totally collapsed. Well, this is where it started.

Stay tuned for more upcoming Packard posts from the years 2006 and 2007.


  1. I love seeing these older pics. Seeing the stuff people explored before I even thought of abandoned stuff as interesting let along something to get inside of is so damn cool. Your film pics are always really neat, especially now I'm doing photography a bit more so I can appreciate it. I know I'm gushing rn but when I see one of these longform writeups with the old pics I remember checking out your site years ago and how you're one of the people who influenced me to start doing this stuff on my own. Looking forward to the next installment!

  2. My experience with the Packard plant dated back to the 80s. National Screen Service had a major film warehouse there. When I woul make a film buying trip (by car, not the ones by train) I would go out there and get the next week's show. It was a well occupied facility then. It makes me very sad to see the wreck it is now.


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