Packard Plant Portal

If you are reading this page, then I have finally gotten around to doing something on my website for the legendary Packard Plant. The plan is to go through my pictures in chronological order; the first post will cover 2003 to 2005, and then every subsequent year after that. Some years may take more than one post to cover. I will use this page as an index to keep everything tied together in one place. I'll post the new post links here as I release them, and this is also where you will find the handy maps, most of the historical notes, and other reference items.
Here are the posts I have completed so far:

First on the agenda: consulting the relevant Sanborn maps. The c.1897 map does not cover the area now occupied by the plant, meaning that it was probably either undeveloped land, or cleared land at that time. A look at the c.1910 Sanborn however shows that most of the Packard buildings there now were already started by that point. The buildings along the other side of the tracks included the Detroit United Railway Co. car barns and railyard, extending up to Harper Avenue. The Owen Motor Car Co. used to be where Building 82 is standing now. The c.1915 Sanborns show a nearly fully-developed Packard Plant. I will refer to the maps in each post to occasionally mention what processes Packard utilized each building for, and what was performed on each floor.

Speaking of building numbers, I also finally got around to drawing up an easy to use map that concisely shows all of the building numbers, so you can follow along when I'm blabbing on about them in my posts. North is to the left...south is to the right:

Click for full size!
Please ignore the yellow lines; that was something I drew for a different project. I know the plant's numbering system seems like a hodgepodge, but that's how the plant was built over the years. You'll notice that there is a continuous corridor running almost the entire length of the plant, along Concord Street, connecting each of the different wings. This was the main way to get around in the plant, although if you knew the buildings and bridges well enough, and what floors connected where, you could take different routes to get around. But that long straight assembly line along Concord on the second floor was the explorer's "main road."

The astute observer will note that (according to the most updated print copy Sanborn map held at the Detroit Public Library) old Blg 90 was changed to Blg 92A, and old Blgs 51 and 52 were changed to Blgs 90 and 91 (#51 and 52 were reused in the now-demolished Foundry & Forge Division, north of Interstate-94). Furthermore, Blgs 2 and 3 were eventually just called Blg #2. Those that are labelled "C 15" or "C 2-12" are actually single-story shed-type buildings that connect two taller concrete wings. The "C" stands for "Court," and the number of the building or buildings it is connected to. For what it's worth, I think I may have also gotten Blgs 7 and 8 transposed...oops, too late to go back now!

Image courtesy of; advertisement taken from a c.1950s magazine, artist unknown.
Another thing you'll notice is the small hole in the roof of Building 10, which is now much bigger, and the fact that Building 15's two upper floors had not yet caved in on one end, creating what we called "The Tire Toss." By the way, I use a lot of nicknames for places in the plant, such as the Tire Toss, the Pyramid, Splattball City, the Shoe Pit, the Ramps, the Skylight Room, the TV Room, the Vaults, Al's Place, the Doorpanel Corridor...however I don't necessarily have photos of all these things until later years. At first I focused only on photographing the building and its context. As years went on I got more detailed and started taking pictures of stuff to be found inside the plant, and other landmarks, so you'll have to wait awhile to see those.

Another important cartographical note is that everything north of Grand Boulevard was called "the North End," while everything south of the Boulevard was called the "South End." Probably 95% of the time I entered at the South End, through Building 92. From there we went up to the 2nd or 3rd floor to catch the two-story bridge that led into the rest of the complex. By using the many skybridges or tunnels, one never really had to set foot in the foul weather, or had to be seen by anyone outside (this was important back when there were guards, and neighbors who yelled at you, or if someone was on the roof of the school across the street with his shotgun).

Courtesy of
One more important contextual note to bear in mind is that the Packard Plant didn't just spring up as a bunch of concrete buildings all at once; it was built-onto for a couple decades, starting with traditional mill-style buildings made of brick. In 1903 Henry B. Joy had just become manager of Packard Motors, and appointed Albert Kahn as the company architect. This plant was Kahn's first commission for an industrial design, a job which at the time would've been considered anything but glamorous, however Kahn had a certain excitement for it that matched the excitement of the budding Detroit automobile industry he would soon be designing for.

From 1903 to 1905 he designed nine buildings for Packard in conventional mill style, comprising the heart of the plant—the quadrangle of buildings surrounding what is now the "Pyramid," or tallest part of the complex. Building #10 was the first one built with the reinforced concrete style of construction that Albert and his brother Julius would become famous for. It was the first reinforced concrete automobile factory in the world, and soon the rest of the Packard complex would be built in that style. As they expanded, these nine original brick buildings were either demolished or swallowed up by the new reinforced concrete ones. This photo from the Virtual Motor City Archives of Wayne State University shows the Packard as it looked in 1904, just as Albert Kahn started turning it into the modern plant we see today:

Image via Virtual Motor City Archives
According to historian John F. MacArthur, rumor has it that a small portion of the original c.1903 Building #1 that was built of masonry still existed, as well as its cornerstone, surrounded within one of the new concrete structures, but no proof of this mystery has yet been discovered.

Here is the Packard again in the next photo, probably taken around 1908 just after Building 10 was erected (seen at center), Packard's first Kahn-designed concrete structure, a stark contrast to the other classic mill style buildings:

Image via Virtual Motor City Archives
In that photo you are looking north from the Boulevard, and Concord Avenue would be to the righthand side.

Building #10 was revolutionary because the "Kahn Trussed-Bar System" enabled support columns to be placed at an extraordinary 32 feet apart (which allowed for a more spacious factory floor), it enabled windows to be used to cover the entire outside walls (letting in an unprecedented amount of natural light and ventilation), and it eliminated all ornamental details. Perhaps most importantly it was also fairly easy to mass produce buildings of this type, and the modular design allowed for easy expansion. It was the prototype of the modern 20th century factory. Part of the reason for the swiftness with which these buildings could be erected was the abundance of the necessary raw materials (such as limestone) in Michigan's quarries. Kahn's breakthroughs at Packard, and the Pierce-Arrow factory in Buffalo, earned him the attention of Henry Ford, the biggest automaker in the business. Kahn then went on to design probably over 1,000 buildings for Ford Motor, including the legendary Highland Park Model T Plant, which I have written about before.

Despite Kahn's other projects, by 1910 the Packard Plant had almost doubled from its c.1905 size, with several wings having been added in echo of Building #10. The Packard was featured in the June 1911 issue of American Architect. That was also when the new Packard Forge Shop was added to the complex, in the now blank area along Concord north of I-94. It was a huge, open steel trussed building with entirely glass walls, and looked nothing like the rest of the plant; it was heralded as one of his most ingenious designs ever, but it was demolished long ago. The Industrial Works in Bay City (which I explored in an older post), was a simplified version of the Packard Forge, but it too has been recently demolished.

Here is the Packard in 1941, nearly full-grown, as seen looking south from the northern end of the plant...Harper Avenue is shown where Interstate-94 is now, as well as the bran-new Building 84 in the foreground, which was erected for war production of Rolls-Royce's Merlin aircraft engines:

Image via LIFE Magazine
The now-demolished Forge Building would be located just behind the cameraman in that shot. You might also notice that the photo was taken from almost the same spot as my first photo at the top of this page.

During WWII war production, the city of Detroit was under a lot of tension. Not just from the war, but from racial and labor strife issues that were at a boiling point. The city "was a cauldron of hate propaganda" according to historian Robert Conot. Many plants experienced sit-downs, and walkout strikes. At Packard (and others), black workers had struck several times over being held back while white counterparts were promoted, as well as lack of enforcement of regulations. Finally two black metal polishers at Packard were promoted to war work, but it caused white workers to go on strike, so the company rescinded their promotions.

In another case, the company agreed to give three outspoken blacks in the Packard foundry promotions according to their seniority, and it caused 25,000 white workers to walk off the job. One of them shouted over the plant's loudspeaker that "it was better to let Hitler and Hirohito win than work next to a n----er." This was the beginning of the "Packard Hate Strike," which was in fact a direct precursor to the 1943 Detroit Riots that rocked the city weeks later, the worst riot in American history to that point.

According to Conot, Packard, due to its Railroad Republican heritage, was the largest employer of African Americans in Detroit during WWI. In 1917, when Ford had only 200 blacks employed (in bottom-wrung jobs), Packard employed 1,100 blacks. Every other car company had fewer than 200. By the 1920s however, Ford would eclipse Packard by far as the largest employer of black Detroiters. One should not automatically assume however that these numbers indicate Packard or Ford hired black workers just to be nice; more likely they liked the fact that blacks could be paid lower wages, and used as a chess piece to scare white workers into believing that they might be replaced by blacks if they didn't work hard enough.

During the late 1920s Packard was making some of the highest profits in the automotive industry, yet had reduced wages and kept "obedience charts" on its workers. Henry Joy, Packard's (then-retired) president, railed against the New Deal and advocated for advertising boycotts "to bring liberal papers into line." He supported extreme right-wing organizations like the American Liberty League, and American Vigilance Intelligence Federation, many of the fiscal policies that had brought on the Great Depression (like those of the American Protective Tariff Association), and he opposed the Department of Justice's attempts to curb price-fixing in the auto industry. I wouldn't want anyone to get too rosy a picture of Detroit history now...

Anyway, this next photo does not accurately show every building number, but it does show the plant in the context of the Dodge Main Plant, c.1949, which I like:

Image via Packard Cormorant
The illustration appears in an article by A.J. Balfour that was featured in the handy dandy booklet "Detroit's Packard Factory: Rise and Fall of 1580 East Grand Boulevard," put out by The Packard Cormorant in 2009, as a sort of requiem for the plant in what looked to be its last days. The full-color 40-page booklet was published in extremely limited numbers (I made sure I got a copy!) and contains all kinds of useful tidbits of historical information about the plant. A.J. Balfour writes that the plant once comprised over a mile in length and 4.5 million sq. ft. of floor space, but is maybe 3/5ths of its size now. At its peak under Packard ownership, the complex included 50 acres of land, and 54 acres of floorspace in 66 buildings, according to another article in The Packard Cormorant booklet by John F. MacArthur.

By 1949 many of the plant's buildings south of Grand Boulevard were leased to Briggs Mfg., the body company that produced Packard's bodies from 1946 to 1954 in their plant at Conner & Warren Avenues. They were then shipped here for storage in the south end of the plant, awaiting final assembly. By 1956 all Packard assembly had moved to the Conner Plant, and Packard had begun to sell off many of the buildings in the south end of this plant.

Balfour also includes this labeled map showing the basic layout of the plant and how its departments were organized before and during WWII production:

Image via Packard Cormorant
The top portion of the map shows a snapshot of 1940, while the bottom half was current to September, 1944. You can see which buildings were added specifically for WWII production, a few of which are already gone. For what it's worth, Packard also helped build the Liberty engines during WWI production.

Balfour's entry in the booklet also includes a listing of each building in the plant by number, and the manufacturing processes that occurred on each floor around 1949. He does not say that the info came from Sanborn maps, but from some "old drawings" found at a flea market. Sadly it's too much typing for me to include all that here, not to mention the Sanborn maps from 1910, 1915, etc, also include the same information for those respective time periods. It would be interesting to track what processes occurred in what buildings across different time periods, but I'm afraid I don't have time to compile all that for you here. 

However I will show you this super-interesting image I took from the actual Sanborn book at the Detroit Public to enlarge it and see if you can see where they pasted tissue paper over the existing map to show where the I-94 "Edsel Ford Expressway" was built over Harper Avenue sometime between 1945 and 1956:

Click to enlarge!
If you look through the tissue paper you can see how Building 84 (at lower left, in blue) and the railroad loading dock (Blg. 24A) got chopped back a little bit to make room for the expressway, as well as the foundry & forge buildings north of Harper. Building 22 seems to have remained intact, with the expressway being curved to wrap around it. In case you are still lost, Building 21 is the one with the famous "Ramps." You can also see that the bridge that used to connect Buildings 84 and 22 for Merlin production (seen in Balfour's war production map above) was lost during the expressway construction. Even in light of the fact that most Sanborn maps are now available online, you just can't get something like this unless you go to the physical copies.

Here are a couple other images of clippings I found in the National Automotive History Collection of the Detroit Public Library's Skillman Branch, downtown...

Image via National Automotive History Collection
Local amateur historian John Lauter was one of the business tenants who formerly occupied space in the plant after Packard left, and in recent years he gave a nice breakdown of the plant's post-Packard history on a social media group that I follow, since many people still believe the misinformation that is commonly recited in the media about the Packard Plant having been abandoned since Packard moved in 1956 (I believe I have also seen him perform on the mighty Wurlitzer at the Senate Theater). By the way, all of the information that he cites is available to anyone (including journalists) at the National Automotive History Collection—much of which comes from old Detroit newspaper clippings, ironically. And now it is available here too, so y'all read up.

In September 1954 Packard moved its car production to the former Briggs Body Co. plant at Conner & East Warren Avenues. Lauter said that Packard management had wanted to get out of their old obsolete multi-story plant for awhile, and into a more modern single-story plant, and since their bodies were being made at Briggs' plant, it seemed like a workable solution. Especially since Chrysler had just bought Briggs, and told Packard they would no longer be supplying them with bodies.

Image via National Automotive History Collection
At the end of the 1956 fiscal year Studebaker-Packard declared bankruptcy and was bought by Curtis-Wright Corp., who moved all production to Studebaker's South Bend plant in Indiana (which happened to also be an Albert Kahn design, modeled after the Ford Model-T Plant in Highland Park). With the closure of Packard and Hudson Motors (and other smaller plants), the population trickle from the inner city toward the suburbs became a "white"-water rapids, as almost 100,000 jobs instantly vanished.

"The Last Man at Packard," by Russell Harris, was published in the April 6, 1958 Detroit News, telling the story of 65-year-old John Leo McDevitt, who watched over the plant, the last of the 40,000 hourly workers to still be employed there. He had 33 years in with the company, and drove a Packard. He parked it where the company vice president used to park. When he was visited by the News reporter for a tour, machines were still being crated for shipment elsewhere; his job was to cut the power off in those areas as the men finished up. The heat was already cut off, and the reporter wrote that frost still clung to the walls from the previous winter; an ominous harbinger of seasons to come, although it would not be completely abandoned for many more years.

About a year after the News story about "The Last Man at Packard," the mostly empty plant would be the scene of a massive fire in Building 5 that would take 13 days to extinguish...

Image via Virtual Motor City Archives was even featured in the May 1959 issue of Firefighting magazine, in an article by former Detroit Fire Department Chief Paxton Mendelssohn, who had command at the time of the incident. The Packard Plant would soon become infamous in the annals of Detroit Fire Department history—a legacy that it has ironically managed to maintain to the present day.

At the time of the fire, Building 5 was partially in use as an unheated warehouse, and had no sprinklers in operation. The fire grew so large so fast that Chief Mendelssohn was obliged to make a personal appearance. By the time he arrived however, four more alarms had been called. The entire fifth floor was burning, loaded with massive bales of jute, scrap rags, and felt. Because hydrants were scarce in this area, because it was difficult to get water through the wire-reinforced windows, and because of backdrafts, the 10th Battalion was forced to retreat from their inside attack and fight from the exterior only. Three firemen were overcome with smoke and had to be rescued. This honestly sounds like an exact precursor to the horrendous Northway Inferno of 1987, the single deadliest fire in the DFD's history.

Image via Virtual Motor City Archives
Chief Mendelssohn said partial collapse of Building 5 became a concern, but it held together. Hours later the fire seemed under control, and some of the responding companies were dismissed. Several more hours later, a new first alarm was called at the same location—the sixth floor, loaded with the same bales of rags had become, in firefighter lingo, "violently involved throughout." Minutes later, it had escalated to five alarms over and above the companies that were still there fighting the original fire on the fifth floor. There were a total of 13 aerial ladders on scene, the most ever in department history, along with 35,000 feet of hose, which all had to be chopped out of ice afterward. The weather was foul with freezing rain on top of deep, ice-covered snow.

Image via Virtual Motor City Archives
As it turns out, storage of this sort of material so high above ground level with no sprinklers was against fire code. The fire was finally stabilized almost 10 hours after the initial call, but it still took over a week to fully extinguish, due to the bales having to be individually broken up and soaked one by one. On the positive side of things, one could look at this blaze and compare it to the Northway Plant inferno, which occurred in a c.1903 mill-type building similar to those brick ones that originally comprised the Packard complex before being replaced by Albert Kahn's reinforced concrete structures. Whereas the Northway Motor plant was a total loss whose hazardous structure contributed to the deaths and injuries of several fireman, Packard's Building #5 was basically fireproof and retained its structural integrity despite the immense volume of fuel burning inside it, and its fires were isolated by floor, as opposed to the entire structure going all at once.

Image via Virtual Motor City Archives
According to John Lauter the old Packard Plant had been sold in 1957, but continued to operate as a manufacturing facility under the Utica-Bend Corp., which was still fulfilling production orders for a Department of Defense contract that Packard had not completed by the time of its bankruptcy. Essex Wire Corp. also moved in and rented parcels of the plant for light manufacturing. The entire administrative office wing (Building 13) was occupied by the Michigan Department of Social Services, and in total there were around 100 tenants occupying space in the ex-Packard plant at that time.

Here is a photocopy from an informational pamphlet designed for prospective tenants in the 1990s, with building numbers:

Image via National Automotive History Collection
In 1981 Lauter says, the plant was sold to a Pakistani businessman (not sure if this is actually the Bangladeshi businessman Aziz Khondker, who I have seen mentioned elsewhere as having bought the plant in 1989?). In any case, the plan was to redevelop the Packard site to be concurrent with the new GM Poletown Plant being constructed nearby at that time, which in light of GM's new "Just In Time" manufacturing method, would make it a great place to warehouse sub-assemblies waiting their turn on the Poletown assembly line. The old Michigan Central Railroad spur at the Packard Plant should've made it a slam-dunk, but the idea failed because GM had recently mandated that all their modern facilities must have 24-foot ceilings, and the Packard's highest was only 19 feet.

This c.1981 invoice I found shows that the J.E. Berger Corporation was occupying Building 39 (in the very south end, at 5300 Bellevue and Frederick Street). The invoice was for an electric ventilating blower, to the Bendix Corp. of Southfield, Michigan. A picture of Building 39 shows up on the paper:

The decade of the 1990s heralded the dim years of the plant, where it was owned by either Dominic Christini or Romel Casab—or both?—each of whom was a somewhat shady character in his own right. In 1994 Dominic Christini bought a controlling interest in the site from Aziz Khondker, and soon afterward is when the real estate speculator Romel Casab entered the story as well, although I am still not exactly sure what role he played.

"Individuals in the mayor's office," according to Lauter, were working on a land speculation scheme with whoever the actual / purported owner was, to grab the plant for back taxes and obtain EPA brownfield remediation money to pay the owner's son's demolition company to tear the complex down, which would theoretically yield 64 contiguous acres of land with heavy rail and freeway access (I think this might've been where Mr. Casab came in?).

Lauter says that all of the legal protections regarding the seizure of property were "either ignored or fast tracked," and the Detroit Police Gang Squad was stationed at the plant to make sure that Dominic Christini, the property manager, could not reenter the building once he left. So he decided not to leave, resulting in a famous siege of the plant where a heavily armed Christini remained holed up inside for eight-months while police stood guard outside. A Detroit News article details this fascinating page in Detroit's history...
On the night of Nov. 20, 1998, Cristini huddled behind a large wood table clutching a semiautomatic rifle, with other guns laid out on the floor of his office at the plant. Outside, dozens of Detroit police officers were amassed. "The cops want to take me out," Cristini told a Detroit News reporter who was present as he crouched behind the broad conference table, which he had flipped onto its side to use as a shield. "If they come busting in here, I'm taking some of them out with me." The police never entered Cristini's office that night, although a team of officers stayed in the guard shack outside overnight—and police units remained there on 24-hour guard duty for eight months. 
The standoff began because the Detroit City Council voted to replace Christini's Packard Motor Properties (which had managed the plant since 1994), with a new management company, Central Maintenance Services, the News explained. Except I guess City Council didn't account for the fact that Christini apparently ain't the one, haha.

Image via Virtual Motor City Archives
It had been reported to city officials that guards from Christini's company were spotted carrying AK-47s, but no actual wrongdoing was discovered. Nonetheless City Council voted to remove Christini's company, and soon "dozens of cops stormed the Packard property," incidentally, without a search warrant. While this was going on Cristini allowed the News reporter into his office, and said he "feared police were planning to kill him and steal his property." Police began frisking everyone who went in or out of the plant, denied they were doing so, and never gave a clear answer as to why they maintained the siege for eight months. The city claimed that it was due to threats of violence, or to stop Christini's company from destroying records, although a siege obviously could not have stopped that from occurring inside.

The following Monday (November 23, 1998), a judge issued a temporary order to stop City Council's move to replace Christini's company, and to stop the police from surveilling the Packard property. Nonetheless four officers remained on site anyway, until July 1999. The next day city workers began erecting a 12-foot fence around Christini's office, without any explanation. On December 22, 1998 eviction notices were sent by the City of Detroit to the remaining 117 tenants leasing space in the plant (I have also seen the number of tenants quoted at 89, but it suffices to say there were a lot of them). In the resulting panic exodus, all of the tenants left except one, Chemical Processing, who had been there since 1958.

In March of 1999 city contractors began tearing down the plant while Christini watched from his office windows. He got a court order to halt the demolition, but the city ignored it. When the Detroit News asked the city attorney why the court order was being disobeyed, he denied demolition was happening, until the News told him they had photos. There has never been an official explanation from the city as to why they so badly wanted the property seized and demolished, other than a claim that they wanted to attract the Budd Company to the site, but that doesn't quite explain the zeal with which their actions were carried out, especially in light of the fact that the property was already full of tenants paying rent.

Image via Detroit Free Press
Demolition finally halted, and the plant went into limbo. Meanwhile, the city ignored the ensuing vandalism and scrapping of the site, since they saw it as furthering the goal they were hoping to achieve, which was to seize it for blight violations, and tear it down. Their gamble didn't quite work out how they wanted however, since the matter of ownership and illegal seizure became tied up in the courts for almost a decade. The city had already demolished Buildings 7, 8, 9, and 23 (which is why their rubble-strewn foundations still remain torn open to this day), but no one could legally touch the plant until the court cases were resolved, and so for years it sat at the mercy of the elements and to anyone who wanted to break in. Soon it was so ravaged that no one had to break in anymore. If you want to know what the buildings looked like that were torn down, check out this picture from Camilo José Vergara. His seminal book American Ruins came out in 1999, prominently featuring a photo of the Packard on its cover.

The four-man police detail babysitting Christini was dismissed in July 1999, and the city posted two security guards at the front gate to replace them, but they were legally limited in what they could actually do; they were there mostly for show, since the property's ownership was unclear.

In 2006 the Michigan Supreme Court ruled against the City of Detroit, saying that Christini was in fact the rightful owner, not the city. The only problem was that Christini was currently behind bars on narcotics charges, unable to legally do anything with the property, and so the plant continued to rot. Worse yet, by 2008 the economy was in a nosedive, the city was headed for bankruptcy, and people realized that the cost of demolishing the plant would be absolutely astronomical—aside from environmental cleanup costs. It began to look as if the Packard would always be there, an immense and imposing hulk to behold, caked with a century of toxic grime; an enduring, immovable industrial ruin, given immunity to the wrecking ball by its sheer mass and the impotent economy of the dead city it fell with.

Image via National Automotive History Collection
Meanwhile the scrapping epidemic went into overdrive mode, driven by spiking metals prices. The removal of copper was followed by the removal of aluminum, and then finally the catastrophic removal of structural iron from the site killed any cost-offsetting potential that a demolition contractor could ostensibly glean from taking on such a job. In October 2009 the ruins of the Packard were featured on the cover of TIME Magazine. By 2010 I was convinced that it was destined to crumble into the ground forever, becoming a true ruin. However, everyone—myself included—was stunned when the plant was purchased in 2013 by the noted Peruvian developer Fernando Palazuelo after a much-contested and drama-filled land auction.

In 2014 there was a very good film documentary done by the Detroit Free Press called "Packard: The Last Shift." For some reason it hasn't been released yet, although I have a hunch it has to do with the rights to certain segments of footage used in it, and the faces of some people appearing in it without consent. I saw it when it premiered at the State Theater during the very first Freep Film Festival that year, which may have been the only time it has ever been seen publicly. Fernando Palazuelo was there for the Q&A session after the film, during which he received a standing ovation from the crowd for finally buying that ratty old piece of property. It was thought by many to be a pretty optimistic time for Detroit, which was on the cusp of emerging from its contrived "bankruptcy," and although Palazuelo's organization has done an extraordinary amount of cleanup and safety remediation at the plant, there has still been no actual redevelopment.

Stay tuned to this page for additional Packard Plant posts, as they are written.

Sources referenced in this series:
Sanborn maps of Detroit c.1910, Vol. 7, Sheets 83 (north end), 84, and 87 (south end)
Sanborn maps of Detroit c.1915, Vol. 7, Sheets 43 (north end), and 44 (south end)
Designing for Industry: The Architecture of Albert Kahn, by Grant Hildebrand, p. 27, 28-34, 39, 43-45, 54-58, 86, 92, 152, 219
The Legacy of Albert Kahn, by W. Hawkins Ferry, p. 40, 41
"Packard's Detroit Factory: The Rise and Fall of 1580 East Grand Boulevard," The Packard Cormorant, Vol. LVI No. 4 (Winter 2009)
American Odyssey, by Robert Conot, p. 232, 292, 333, 376, 378, 379, 425-430, 435, 608
Packard, by James Wren & George Dammann
American Ruins, by Camilo José Vergara, p. 35-39


  1. Nailhed, so glad to see that you've gotten around to posting the beginnings of you extensive Packard Plant information.

    I rented space for storing an old car in the first southbound bay of the 2nd floor of building 31 from 1986 thru 1991. The interior of the plant was in generally good order in 1986. By 1991, I noticed that the wood floor was starting to buckle (long slates) or dislodge (the smaller blocks), and I've since learned that there was an overall ownership change during that timeframe. This was somewhat transparent to me as I rented from a middle-man who rented the whole bay.

    I left the Detroit Area in 1999, but recently (6 months ago) learned about the urban exploring that goes on and the ongoing sad story of what's happened to the Packard Plant over the past 21 years. I've done some internet searching, visited the online collections of the Detroit Public Library and Wayne State Univ. and read the related archives at Detroitfunk and DetroitYes, and watched the YouTube videos that I could find. I thought that you'd be happy to know that in your first installment I've learned info that I hadn't run across before. I'm not surprised, as I've enjoyed your other postings. Keep up the exceptional work you do.

    Bill H.

  2. Nailhead: It is so interesting to see photos of the plant, before it was vandalized so much.My Mom worked at the plant, in 1943. She worked on the aircraft engine assembly line,installing spark plugs in cylinder heads.In the above text, you had mentioned that the bridge between buildings 22 &84 was torn down for the freeway. I had read somewhere on the web, that there was/ is a tunnel connecting the 2 buildings. Have you ever seen any remnants of this ? Thanks. George Mader

    1. No, never knew that the two buildings were connected, in fact I just noticed it on the map as I was writing this. However I would not be surprised if the steam tunnels connected the buildings, since they ran under most of the plant. I will talk more about the tunnels in my 2007 post. I am trying to draw a map of the tunnel grid from memory and photos.

  3. Nailhed,

    I was wondering if you ever noticed items related to the heating system. I'm guessing that when it was an operating auto plant they probably used steam from the power plant to heat the place. Did you every see radiators? How about possible steam pipes in the tunnels? Also, did any of the tunnels go under E. Grand Blvd.?

    I was also wondering what they did for heat after the power plant was torn down. When I rented space there in '86-'91 I know that the common space bathrooms, 2nd floor Bldgs 31-33 area, were operational in the warmer months, but they were winterized sometime in the fall. My storage, 2nd floor Bldg. 31 was unheated. But Arlan's must of had heat, and the administration Bldg was probably heated (after the plant closed) and I'm guessing many of the small business must of had heat. Did your wanderings every indicate heat sources.

    Thanks for any insight you might have. - Bill H.

    1. Yes, there were radiators all over the plant, but they were not the typical registers you see standing under windows, they were grilles flush-mounted to the ceilings and walls. Most were missing, but I'm pretty sure I remember seeing a bunch. That was the main purpose of the tunnels, to provide steam heat across the complex. And yes there was a tunnel under the Boulevard, but I was unable to go through that part because it went several steps down lower than the rest of the tunnels, and was totally flooded and filled with debris.

      After the days of the powerhouse, probably large industrial space heaters (also ceiling mounted or window mounted) kept the various buildings warm burning natural gas, which wouldve made it more efficient to only heat whatever areas were still tenanted.

  4. Nailhed,

    The historical pictures and my commentary on standard court sheds is unlikely to be news to you so it can wait for another posting.

    I found two pictures in the Online Collection of the Detroit Public Library that show the tunnel between buildings 22 and 84. The pictures are items na043374 and na043392. The first shows construction of the tunnel including going underneath the operating train tracks. The second shows dignitaries, including William Knudsen then with the Office of Production Management, walking through the tunnel soon after construction.

    As an aside I worked for General Motors for 14 1/2 years at the Tech Center in Warren. Several of the buildings are connected with underground tunnels that look very similar.

    I also have a question about Bldg. 24. It's shown on the paper Sanborn map, it's small and North of Bldg 23. I've seen that building in historical photos circa 1944. Do you know if it torn down in 1999 or before then.

    Thanks. Bill H.

    1. Wow, great finds!!

      Not sure about Blg 24; I assumed it was one of the ones torn down in 1999, but it could have been earlier.

  5. Huge fan of the site and city. Your exploration at Packard inspired my creation of an adventure based in 1930s Detroit for the roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu. If you're at all interested, would be thrilled to share it with you.


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