Packard: 2006, Part B

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Welcome to Part B of the second chapter of my Packard saga, covering the year 2006. If you missed Part A, CLICK HERE.

This was when we were becoming a little more brazen, since we never used to just walk around outside the plant. Again, 2006 was the first year that the Packard was not guarded by security men.

I remember coming across this Dodge Ram one day and being all weirded out because it was so random and unexpected...I mean this had just happened like seconds before we saw it. The tailpipe was still warm, and the keys were swinging in the ignition. After that the joke became "You don't have anything to worry about when parking at the Packard, unless you see your car start to drive into the plant."

If memory serves, there were only two times when we had issues parking at the Packard in the early days. The first time, we returned to find Chisel's car with all the doors and the trunk hanging wide open. Nothing was broken or missing, but it was the neighborhood's way of letting us know that they see us. Chisel wisely followed the protocol of leaving your doors unlocked and nothing of value inside, so that you wouldn't get a broken window.

On a different trip I warned my brother to adhere to this doctrine, but he didn't listen. We came back to find a window smashed out, and his CD collection missing.

This was Building 90's north entrance, where the railroad spur led into the building. It was adjacent to Building 92, which was the one through which we usually entered the plant.

This row of shed roofs comprised Buildings 47-50, 90, and 91, labelled as machine shop area on the Sanborn map:

I showed the interior of these buildings in my first Packard post.

The south water tower looming over the south end of the plant, which mostly made up Packard's truck and body departments:

Since the windows were all suddenly missing from Building 92 due to scrapping, I decided that now might be a good time to climb out a third-floor window onto the adjacent roof of Building 90...

The lower level, along the roof monitor:

I'm pretty sure not many people (except maybe a few graffiti writers) ever came out onto the roof of this particular building. It had a pretty cool view. I thought that this might make a cool nighttime chill spot, but I never made it back up there.

Looking back at Building 92, you can see that it had a bunch of those brackets for carrying electrical lines attached to its west wall.

You can also see that its upper floors had begun collapsing in earnest by that point as well:

In fact one of them had snagged one of the steel window sashes that had lately been cut from the building to be harvested for scrap, below:

The stairwells in the newer buildings of the Packard's north end and south end were generally wider and more open than those of the older buildings in the central core of the plant.

I believe this one is actually from Building 33, judging by this view of Building 47 from the windows:

In general, the older buildings of the complex were the ones clustered around East Grand Boulevard, and the newer ones were those on the north and south ends.

There were also these little projections that stood out, possibly for maneuvering a forklift or something...

...if I'm not mistaken this stairwell may have also served as a pass-through to connect to a freight elevator shaft?

The next several photos are from when the windows started to really disappear later in the year...

This is looking across Bellevue at Buildings 37 and 38.

These skinny little smokestacks are modern, vents that belonged to the Chemical Processing business that functioned here in Building 34 until 2010:

Come to think of it, it was so strange to have a functioning business in here while we were traipsing through the ruins around it.

Look close and you can see the old PACKARD lettering still showing in rust-shadow on the side of the water tower:

I believe I had climbed the south water tower as early as 2005 or 2006, but I don't have any pictures from it until 2007. So stay tuned, because the view from up there is off the chain.

Somebody once asked me why the Packard had so many buildings where rebar was seen sticking up out of the roof, as in the photo below. My assumption is that this was because the Kahn style of reinforced concrete construction allowed for pretty much infinite expansion and adaptability. You could add another floor onto your factory whenever you wanted, just by welding more rebar onto these stubs, pouring new concrete columns on top of the existing ones, and away you went:

The fog and the rooftrees on this damp, moody day made for quite the scene...

Welcome to the Packard National Forest...please keep all tire fires in designated campfire circles, and do not feed the tigers.

LEATHER JACKETS were big around this time too:

Notice the line of big humps on the roof in the next shot...those represent where the tops of the support columns were located on the floor below. With that and the rebar stubs, clearly another floor had been planned to go on top of this building, but it was never built.

This shot is from the roof of Building 37 or 38, looking back at Building 92. You can see the collapsed roof, and the covered conveyor that ran across the top of the Bellevue Bridge:

I did go inside that conveyor at one point, but it was really dark and dirty, and was sealed at one end if I recall right. If I have a picture, it wasn't in 2006.

Looking at Building 10 and the north water tower, over Court 4:

...those huge vent heads on Court 4's shed roof actually rotated themselves on roller bearings, to adjust to the direction of the wind. It was kinda creepy. For scale, they were about the size of a compact car.

Yes, there was a Civil Defense fallout shelter underneath the Packard Plant. The entrance was really unobtrusive, so not many people made it down there:

But it was located near the "Shoe Pit," under Building 12 where it met Building basically right under the executive offices (I'm sure it's not a coincidence that the big wigs wanted to make sure they got first dibs if the sirens went off). It was not connected to the regular steam tunnels, although if I recall correctly at the far end it may have been bricked up with some holes where pipes may have passed through from a steam tunnel? I do know that a steam tunnel did pass very close to it, from Building 1 or 13.

It was still full of boxes of rations from the 1950s, including Survival Cracker tins, Survival Water drums, and even some of the hard candy and medicine rations that my military history enthusiast friend Cavemonkey told me were really rare. He even deemed some of them worth stealing as collector items.

One thing about the fallout shelter however was that it smelled nasty as hell. It didn't occur to me for several years that the smell I was smelling, and the slime on the floor were rat excrement, stirred into a green soup by seeping groundwater. The containers of old rations lured the vermin in from the sewers, and they glutted themselves on the 50-year-old crackers, chewing right through the sides of the tins.

And here ladies and gentlemen, is probably the oldest graffiti tag in the entire far:

It says "MIKE ROZEN, '53," which I presume implies 1953, which corresponds to when fallout shelters began to become a thing in America. It was also before spray paint cans were invented, as you can see.

Back up in the north end, this is Court 17...

Same court, looking back from the other end:

Looking south, at Building 17:

Outside this window is a view of Court 19, which is marked as "Final Inspection" on the Sanborn map, making me think that it was the end of the line for the assembly line:

Building 21 itself (with the Ramps) was constructed in 1927 and pretty much from here north to Harper Avenue used to be the Packard test track, as shown on the un-updated c.1915 Sanborn map (this was before they built their test facility out in Shelby Township). So I guess it makes sense that the assembly line would end here at the north end, and then the cars would go straight to the test track prior to delivery. Inside the test track oval, the Sanborn map shows a baseball diamond. Back then every factory in town had a baseball team, and they all played each other in league competition. I think I've talked about this before in other posts.

Roof of Building 21:

The north water tower, and the Pyramid, with Building 19 in the foreground:

Court 19 again; Building 19 on the left and Building 21 (with The Ramps) on the right:

You might notice that it is a little wider than the other courts, and Building 21 was much wider than the other buildings. In fact it shares more architectural similarities with Fisher Body 21 (not to mention its number) than with any other part of the Packard.

Here's the top of the Ramps, and the gravel parking area on top of Building 21:

I must admit that as we got more and more brazen and lawless over the years, we drove our vehicles up here to hang out a couple times, instead of doing all that walking. There was one of those stubborn roll-down doors that had to neutralized first, however. Somewhere there is a video of Jeep vs. Door...

Down inside Building 21 there was this old motorcycle:

Recognize it from the Splattball City poster? Building 21 was another of Splattball's battlefields, and now that I think about it they had a camper or two sitting over in the corner to the right as well. One thing that always told you that you were in Splattball City was the fact that they covered the floors of their battlefields in a 6-inch layer of sawdust...I imagine this was to prevent people from falling and hurting themselves?

Anyway by the time 2006 rolled around it was starting to get pretty funky...all the runoff from rain and snow sat and festered in the sawdust and got moldy, raising a distinctive smell that permeated the north end of the plant. I think I have better pictures of Splattball's courses in my 2007 photos.

From a window next to the motorcycle you could go out on the roof of Building 22...this is the extreme north end of the plant:

Nobody ever really came out here this far, it was well off the beaten path. You can tell by the complete absence of graffiti.

Building 22 was originally built for the wartime aircraft engine production, which is why it is so much newer than the rest of the plant. It was also still in use to some extent, which is why it was untouched by vandals. We had a hunch that some mafia sh*t was going down in there, and the fact that armed guards known for randomly shooting at people (wish I could find that video on Youtube) were later placed here seemed to confirm that in our minds. There were some pretty good rumors as to what was being stored inside, as I recall.

Here is a great view of the Gemmer Steering Gear Co. Plant which I explored in an older will also notice the water tower that I climbed to photograph the Packard Plant back in 2004:

This was also the day we discovered that Building 22 had an alarm...when we tried to sneak into a stairway from this roof. The rest of the Packard looks so far away:

Okay, rewinding to Building 5, the Pyramid again:

I love that warm, dirty look of the Packard in you can see some of those slats on Building 4 again:

God I wish I coulda swiped these doors and used them for my own garage:

Building 5 was also good for having a lot of its original lights still hanging:

Chillin' in Building 5, looking at the back of Building 13:

...Of course with the high-gravity potion sitting nearby, also known as a "211 in progress."

Looks like we got a little bit of a prairie starting up here on Building 1:

You can generally gauge the floor-load rating of a factory building by looking at the thickness of the support columns. Those in Building 5 were relatively skinny compared to the rest of the plant, and they got skinnier as you went up higher in the building:

On the sixth floor of Building 5, there was a bunch of the old shop lights still swinging from the ceiling in the wind:

The lamps were really dancing in the wind today...

Notice now that on the 7th floor, the top floor, that the support columns are not concrete, but small steel posts:

Here is the turntable, on the 7th floor of Building 5, possibly used either for clay modeling or showing off new prototype was definitely big enough to park a Packard on:

The sloped sides were probably to make it easy to drive a car on and off of:

These nasty old bales of old donated clothing scraps were allegedly left here by some company that purportedly made stuffed animals or something out of them to give to third-world kids in the 1990s. Of course, this was a rumor I think, but I believe I also read it in that Camilo José Vergara guy's book American Ruins. Anyway, it was eerily reminiscent of that story about the bundles of old rags that burned the 5th and 6th floors of this building in 1959. It was against fire code to store such materials this high up in an un-sprinklered building.

HEY GUESS WHAT, these bales of rags caught fire in the 2010s. If I'm not mistaken that was what led to the eventual collapse of the top floor of Building 5. There may have been sprinklers added here after the fire in 1959, but they are no good when the building is abandoned.

...Now, you'd have to be pretty stoned to take a photo like that, wouldn't you?

Sitting atop Building 5, this elevator penthouse with the steel fire door actually served for a long time as our official barbeque spot, since in the winter you could go inside of it and be out of the cold. We had a grille and some charcoal stashed in there behind a large girder, so that it would always be ready when we showed up.

There was ventilation via the elevator shaft and a window, but I think we still got a little brain damaged, haha.

This next shot shows how high Building 5 stood over the rest of the plant. Those covered shed-looking things on the roof over there were actually part of the assembly intervals the conveyor track would pop up out of the building and then go back down inside.

There's the Skylight Room toward the center of the next shot, with its huge angled window:

Building 92 in the south end was now completely denuded of windows, and you could see right through it:

Notice that this photo from a few months earlier still shows windows in Building 92:

Row after row of buildings:

That's a helluva lot of buildings all compressed into one shot...

Counting from the foreground to the background, we've got Building 27, 28, 31, 32, 33, 37, 38, and 39. That's the entire south end.

Here is the top of the "Pyramid"...I sometimes climbed on the window sash like a ladder to reach the ultimate roof of roofs:

Looks like Detroitfunk was here, I think that's his tag:

Standing on the absolute tippy-top of the Pyramid, downtown's skyline appears above the greenery of the cemetery:

I'm sure Stevie Y remembers this vent:

Leaving the roof of Building 5 for the roof of Building 3...

Looking down into the Canyon as the rays of evening slice through the plant:

Here's a story I barely remember, but I think it occurred in 2006. Anyway, I wrote it down a long time ago, so here it is. While wandering around the plant late one night drinking 40s of Steel Reserve, we decided to try and get to the top of the "Pyramid." From there the view is astounding even at night, as one can see for miles in all directions...

We had gotten a bit lost, seeing as we were kinda drunk, and had never really tried to navigate the Packard in the dark. Eventually we popped out on the roof of the office wing and noticed out of the corner of our eye a light being flashed from the top of the Pyramid—someone was signaling us with a flashlight! Strangely enough, that was exactly where we were trying to get to...we signaled back with our own lights, and then quickly headed back inside and toward the Pyramid as best we could remember how in our drunken state. Fifteen minutes later, we finally made it to the dramatic "Canyon" that wrapped around the Pyramid building, and walked across the skywalk that led into it, hoping that our new friends who had led us to it would still be there when we got to the top (and that they would not be waiting to jump us in the dark).

We hiked to the roof of the Pyramid and there we found them, two guys with beers and grins on their faces. They said they had watched us from above for about an hour as we wandered from one end of the plant to the other, tracking us by our flashlight beams. They were taggers, and had a lot of stories to trade. Mostly though, they were happy to finally actually meet someone face to face, as they said they had never in all their years of hanging out here actually run into anyone close enough to have a conversation...soon we realized that it was true of us as well (that would of course change in the next few years as the Packard became a major tourist destination).

We found a spot out of the wind and they filled a huge blunt wrap while we chatted well into the small hours of the night. Apparently they lived nearby and this was their main hangout, where they had spent countless nights such as this exploring the massive old ruin. I think this may have also been the night that I was introduced to deep-fried mushrooms, at Super Coney.

That orange glow...

For some reason the Packard had some of the best light of any building I've ever photographed...this was particularly the case during the "magic hour" before sunset.

The wings of the building were all perfectly positioned to let in the longest, most beautiful spills of perfectly golden light you can imagine. It was epic.

The dirty brown panes of the Packard sashes was one of my favorite things in the world, for some reason. It just embodied the the Rust Belt image in my mind.

And seeing them all lit up dirty orange from behind during the magic hour, with the silhouettes of the old shop lights hanging from the ceiling was just perfect.

The old Plymouth is still sitting out there in the distance:

It's a little blurry, but this is the entire north end of the plant compressed into one shot:

Arlan's Discount, in Building 27:

The astute reader will note that there was also an Arlan's location in the old Graham-Paige Motors Plant on Warren Avenue in Dearborn.

Twilight on the Boulevard:

Skybridge from Building 33 to 32:

Night falls on Palmer Avenue:

The Ramps after dark:

I got the idea to climb the north water tower in the dark, and take a panoramic night shot of the complex from above, using a long exposure. I put my camera on the railing and set the shutter for the longest exposure, so I thought it would be spectacular...and it would've been, if not for the fact that I hadn't accounted for the water tower moving! I kept retaking and retaking this shot, getting frustrated at myself for not holding perfectly still enough...but what I slowly realized was that it wasn't me shaking the camera, it was movement of the water tower itself...! The wind was just enough to cause the tower to sway, and blur my shot every time. So I'm afraid this is the best ya'll get:

I guess I could've sped up the ISO for a shorter exposure time, but it would've been noisier.

Remember those dirty old yellow sodium street lamps? That's the signature look I remember associating with the D at night from my young years.

Well that's it for 2006. Stay tuned for the 2007 installments.


  1. Haha, I know a couple Windsor graffiti writers who only tagged at the Packard a few times...and one of those times was roller tags on that roof of Building 90. So you're right that some writers have been up there ;)

  2. Nailhed, While there was/is little to no doubt that the turntable you found on the 7th floor of Bldg. 5 was used for viewing both clay models and vehicles from various angles (as you turned the table the lighting would remain relatively constant, for natural light, and the orientation of the model or vehicle would change), I did find six photos in the Detroit Public Library Online collection showing Packards on a wooden turntable. It certainly looks just like the one in your photos and for secrecy reasons you'd want to do this in-house if possible. The are a lot of items in their collection, and I stopped when I got to six, but there are likely more. The cars are from the years 1925, 1927, 1928, 1931, 1932, and 1933 and correspond to items EB01d235, EB01d339, na000494, EB01d595, EB01e884, and EB01d723; respectively. As these cars are Packards and from what many, myself included, consider to be the golden age of automobile styling, there are very beautiful indeed. - Bill H.

    1. Bill, thanks for that...very interesting! I just looked up a few of them on DPL/DAMS and it indeed looks just like the turntable in Blg 5! A turntable certainly would make it easier to photograph a car's different sides without having to move the photographer's equipment around the room.