Packard Automotive Plant

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Packard Automotive Plant
Abandoned Packard Automobile Factory Detroit 200.jpg
The Packard Automotive Plant in 2009
General information
StatusClosed, Renovations Halted in October of 2020, Possible demolition.
TypeAutomobile factory
LocationDetroit, Michigan, U.S.
Coordinates42°22′46.62″N 83°1′44.14″W / 42.3796167°N 83.0289278°W / 42.3796167; -83.0289278Coordinates: 42°22′46.62″N 83°1′44.14″W / 42.3796167°N 83.0289278°W / 42.3796167; -83.0289278
Construction started1903
Technical details
Floor area3,500,000 sq ft (330,000 m2)
Design and construction
ArchitectAlbert Kahn

The Packard Automotive Plant is a former automobile-manufacturing factory in Detroit, Michigan, where luxury cars were made by the Packard Motor Car Company and later by the Studebaker-Packard Corporation.

Design and operation[edit]

Under Packard[edit]

The Packard Plant's administrative building during the addition of two floors circa 1911

The 3,500,000-square-foot (325,000 m2), designed by Albert Kahn Associates using Trussed Concrete Steel Company products is located on 40 acres (16 ha) of land on East Grand Boulevard on Detroit's east side. It included the first use of reinforced concrete in the United States for industrial construction in the automobile industry.[1][2][3][4][5]

The Packard plant was opened in 1903 and contained 10,000 square feet of floor space and at the time was considered the most modern automobile manufacturing facility in the world: modern, efficient, and massive in scale. By 1908, when an enlargement for the construction of trucks was announced, the factory was already six times larger than when constructed and occupied over fourteen acres of space.[6] At its peak the complex employed 40,000 people, including skilled craftsmen involved in over eighty trades. The plant turned out Packard automobiles from 1903 to 1956, except during World War II, when production was shifted to war material, particularly the Packard V-1650 Merlin, which powered the North American P-51 Mustang fighter plane.[7]

After Packard[edit]

The factory complex closed in 1958, though other businesses operated on the premises or used it for storage until the late 1990s.

In the 1990s, the buildings were used to host infamous "underground" raves and techno parties, including the Spastik party hosted by Richie Hawtin[8][9]

A number of the outer buildings were in use by businesses up through the early 2000s. In 2010, the last remaining tenant, Chemical Processing, announced its intention to vacate the premises after 52 years.[10]

Current status[edit]

The infamous "Packard Dump Truck" October 13, 2009

Since its abandonment, the plant has been a haven for graffiti artists, urban explorers, paintballers and auto scrappers, and much of the wiring and other building materials have been removed from the site.[11] In one incident, vandals pushed a dump truck from the fourth floor. Karen Nagher, the executive director of the nonprofit organization Preservation Wayne, stated that she was irked to see people come from "all over the world" to poke around Detroit. "Piece by piece, they're disassembling those buildings, making it harder and harder to restore them".[12]

Despite many years of neglect and abuse, the reinforced concrete structures remain mostly intact and structurally sound. Portions of the upper floors of several small sections in various buildings have collapsed or been partly demolished and lie in ruins in the wake of several aborted attempts at demolition over the years. The City of Detroit has pledged legal action to have the property demolished or secured.[13] Dominic Cristini, whose claim of ownership is disputed, was said to be conducting construction surveys in advance of full-scale demolition as of early 2012.[14][15]

On February 5, 2013, it was reported that aluminum letter placards spelling the Nazi slogan "Arbeit macht frei" (work makes free) were placed in the windows of the E. Grand Boulevard bridge.[16][17] Community volunteers promptly removed the letters.

In April 2013, it was announced that AMC's Low Winter Sun would be filming around the location.[18] In June 2018, Amazon's The Grand Tour filmed their first episode of Season 3 in Detroit which prominently showed the Packard Plant; the episode debuted on January 18, 2019.[19]

On January 23, 2019, the bridge over Grand Boulevard collapsed. No injuries were reported.[20] In February 2019 a section of the plant owned by the city of Detroit was demolished.[21]


Due to tax delinquency, the 43 parcels composing the plant were put up for auction in September 2013. The starting bid was $975,000 (the amount owed in taxes) and there were no takers.[22]

Another auction in October 2013 posted a starting bid of $21,000, or about $500 per parcel.[23] This auction closed with a top bid of $6,038,000 by Dr. Jill Van Horn, a Texas-based physician who announced in an email that she would team up with "partners and investors from Detroit, Wall Street and international firms," to turn the site into an "economic engine", refurbishing the plant grounds for a manufactured-house assembly facility.[24] However, the deadline for full payment was missed, prompting Wayne County to initiate talks with the second-highest bidder, Bill Hults, a Chicago-area developer who placed a $2,003,000 bid in the October auction. In a separate email, Dr. Van Horn stated, "It seemed (David Szymanski, Deputy Wayne County Treasurer) had already made up his mind to talk to the second bidder". Hults then made several non-refundable down-payments on the plant, but he ultimately failed to raise the entire sum of his bid.

Around the same time in October 2013, a Spanish investor, Fernando Palazuelo, also expressed interest in securing the Packard Plant. It was purchased for $405,000 on December 12, 2013.[25] Palazuelo, who has developed historic buildings in Spain and Peru,[26] planned on moving into the plant by April 9, his 59th birthday. He planned on having six different uses for the Packard Plant Project (residential, retail, offices, light industry, recreation and art) that is estimated to cost about $350 million over the next 10 to 15 years. He hoped to bring a big-3 automotive-parts manufacturer to the plant in exchange for a few years of free rent. He also hoped to create a work space for local artists and an upscale go-kart track.[27]

As of August 2016, no redevelopment had taken place at the historic 40-acre site on Detroit's east side. At the time, many remained skeptical that the enormous effort would ever succeed — or even get off the ground — given the nearly half-billion-dollar price tag of the project that Palazuelo had envisioned.[28]


In May 2017, Arte Express, the holding company for Palazuelo, held a ground breaking ceremony for phase I of the project which will include the former 121,000-square-foot administrative building on the site.[29] On August 12, 2017, the inaugural public tour of the property was conducted, which included access to the second floor of the administration building on the complex's western side.[30]


In October 2020, it was announced that the original redevelopment vision for the site had been abandoned, and Mr. Palazuelo would be placing the property up for sale, with an eye towards large-scale demolition to repurpose the site for industrial use.[31]


  1. ^ Olsen 2002, p. 38 "In 1905 Kahn and Julius designed the Packard Plant number 10 using steel-reinforced concrete, the first such application for an industrial plant".
  2. ^ Smith 1994, p. 59 "Together they built ten works buildings for Packard, Plant No. 10 (1905) being the first reinforced concrete structure in the automobile industry, notable for its lengths of open space between columns and the good lighting from near-floor-to-ceiling windows".
  3. ^ Darley 2003, p. 82 " flexibility that he chose to illustrate was Albert Kahn's building of 1905 for Packard in Detroit, building No. 10, the first to use the Kahn reinforced concrete system successfully, which has been effortlessly extended by an additional two stories in 1911".
  4. ^ Baldwin 2002, p. 197 "His first major corporate client was the Packard Motor Car Company, headed by Henry B. Joy, from whom Kahn eventually designed ten buildings, culminating in Detroit's first large auto plant, the first reinforced concrete auto factory in America".
  5. ^ Sedlar, Frank (June 24, 2013). "Engineering Industrial Architecture: Albert Kahn and the Trussed Concrete Steel Company" (PDF). 2012–2013 MLibrary Undergraduate Research Award Maize Award for Single-Term Projects. University of Michigan.
  6. ^ "Packard Company is Enlarging its Plant". Detroit Free Press. October 18, 1908.
  7. ^ Camilo José Vergara (February 25, 2019). "PHOTOS: How to Destroy an American Landmark". The Nation. Retrieved October 28, 2019.
  8. ^ "Even in ruin, Detroit's Packard plant inspires artists".
  9. ^ "Five More Unbelievable Places Richie Hawtin Has Played". November 20, 2013.
  10. ^ "Packard plant to lose last tenant". The Detroit News. November 15, 2010. Archived from the original on July 14, 2012.
  11. ^ "The Packard Plant: Big. Ugly. Dangerous". Archived from the original on December 14, 2013. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  12. ^ Kellogg, Alex P. (November 6, 2009). "How Do You Put the Dump Into Dump Truck? Push It Off the Fourth Floor". Wall Street Journal – via
  13. ^ "Detroit still hunting down Packard plant owner".
  14. ^ "Packard plant ruins to be demolished, owner says". Archived from the original on June 10, 2015. Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  15. ^ "Detroit's infamous Packard plant to be razed. Finally".
  16. ^ "Packard Plant Tagged With Nazi Slogan 'Arbeit Macht Frei'". February 5, 2013.
  17. ^ "Nazi-inspired sign at Detroit's decaying Packard Plant is gone". Archived from the original on February 8, 2013. Retrieved February 6, 2013.
  18. ^ Hinds, Julie (April 22, 2013). "Detroit filming for AMC's 'Low Winter Sun' will put spotlight on city". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved June 15, 2013.
  19. ^ Hinds, Julie (January 17, 2019). "Amazon's 'Grand Tour' drives like a maniac across Detroit in new episode". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  20. ^ Zaniewski, Ann (January 23, 2019). "Historic Packard Plant bridge collapses in Detroit". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Anglebrandt, Gary (May 28, 2013). "Packard plant among parcels up for auction of foreclosed properties". Crain's Business Detroit. Retrieved June 7, 2013.
  23. ^ Left Lane News. "Packard Plant headed for auction with $21,000 bid". Left Lane News. Retrieved October 4, 2013.
  24. ^ "Detroit's iconic Packard plant could soon be back in business".
  25. ^ "Peruvian developer makes final payment to buy Packard Plant". Archived from the original on December 19, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
  26. ^ Elton, Catherine (January 20, 2019). "From Barcelona to Lima, He's Breathing New Life Into Empty Buildings". OZY. Retrieved May 18, 2019.
  27. ^ "Packard Plant bidder says he'll live there, lure auto suppliers, build go-kart track". Archived from the original on December 19, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
  28. ^ "Packard Plant redevelopment could actually happen soon".
  29. ^ Chambers, Jennifer. "Packard Plant makeover finally springs into action". The Detroit News. Retrieved August 16, 2017.
  30. ^ Nagl, Kurt (August 12, 2017). "Inaugural Tour of Packard Plant Captivates Visitors". Crain's Detroit Business. Archived from the original on September 5, 2017. Retrieved September 24, 2017.
  31. ^ "Packard Plant owner switching gears from rehab to demolition".


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