1903 Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit: World’s Largest Abandoned Packard Park

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Automotive Plant in Detroit
Exposed rebar and aconcrete chunks hang from the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant December 13, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Peru-based developer Fernando Palazuelo made his final payment on the Packard Plant, which he won during a Wayne County auction for $405,000. Palazuelo plans on developing the former automotive plant where luxury Packard cars were made in the coming years. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit, Michigan was once regarded as one of the most innovative in the world. It covered 40 acres in the city’s east end and employed 40,000 people at its peak. Unfortunately, the company, like many others in Detroit, ceased operations, leaving behind a decaying concrete structure.

An innovative factory on East Grand Boulevard

Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit
Photo Credit: Joshua Lott / Getty Images

By the 1920s, Packard Motor Car Company had established a reputation for producing cars that were not only luxurious, but also incorporated cutting-edge technologies such as the modern steering wheel and the 12-cylinder engine.
In 1903, the pckard  car company opened a 10,000-square-foot factory on Detroit’s East Grand Boulevard. It was made up of nine buildings designed by Albert Kahn, who chose the mill-style design used by other factories. However, this resulted in cramped quarters and little natural light. The buildings were also a fire hazard because they were mostly made of wood.

Kahn approached his brother, Julius, an engineer who was experimenting with reinforced concrete, in order to improve the design of the 10th building. As a result, reinforced concrete was used for the first time in the automotive industry in America. It was also regarded as the world’s most advanced factory.

By 1908, the Packard Automotive Plant was six times larger than when it first opened, spanning 14 acres.

A shift results in the Packard Automotive factory’s eventual closure.

Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit
Photo Credit: Bryan Mitchell / Bloomberg / Getty Images

During World War I, the Packard Automotive Plant built airplane engines. Following the end of the war, the company transitioned from hand assembly to an automated assembly line, which was followed in the 1930s by the installation of a multi-story assembly line.

It was used as the set for the 1939 production of Merry Widow, starring a young Betty White.

When World War II broke out, the factory refocused its efforts on the war effort, producing the Packard V-1650 Merlin engine, which powered the P-51 Mustang.

Packard’s reputation began to dwindle when it began producing cars aimed at the middle class. This had a significant impact on the company’s sales, which were exacerbated by its acquisition of the Studebaker Corporation in 1954. The merged company never made a profit, and in 1956, it closed its factory on East Grand Boulevard and moved production to a new facility on Conner Avenue.

After 1956, the usage of Packard Automotive Plant

Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit
Photo Credit: Joshua Lott / Getty Images

The last caretaker of the Packard Automotive Plant was laid off in 1958, and the premises was home to a variety of businesses that leased space from its owner over the following decades. A portion of the complex was converted into the Motor City Industrial Park, while the remainder was simply used for storage.

During the 1990s, the factory hosted numerous raves and techno parties, including Richie Hawtin’s Spastik party. While much of the property remained occupied by businesses well into the 2000s, the last remaining tenant, Chemical Processing, vacated in 2010.

City of Detroit attempts to sell the structure.

Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit
Photo Credit: Bryan Mitchell / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Since 2010, the city of Detroit has attempted to sell or repurpose the property several times. This happened for the first time in early 2012, when the city promised to file a lawsuit to have the property demolished. Because of tax evasion, 43 parcels of land were auctioned off in September 2013. The starting bid was $975,000, which was the amount of taxes owed, but no one bid.

Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit
Photo Credit: Joshua Lott / Getty Images

A second auction was held in October 2013 and ended in a successful bid of $6,038,000 by Texas-based physician Jill Van Horn. She hoped to collaborate with “partners and investors from Detroit, Wall Street, and international firms” to turn the property into a “economic engine.” Unfortunately, she did not submit the required funds by the payment deadline, and her claim with the factory was lost.

Bill Hults, a Chicago-area developer, was then contacted as the winning bidder. Despite making several down payments, he was unable to raise the full $2,003,000 bid.

In December 2013, the Packard Automotive Plant was purchased for $405,000 by Spanish investor Fernando Palazuelo. He hoped to use it for residential, art, retail, offices, recreation, and light industry purposes, with the ultimate goal of convincing one of the Big-3 automakers to locate there. While his holding company, Arte Express, held a groundbreaking ceremony in May 2017, the redevelopment plans were scrapped in October 2020.

Packard Motor Car Company

Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit
Photo Credit: Joshua Lott / Getty Images

The former Packard Motor Company plant in Detroit is one of the most visible symbols of the city’s once-thriving auto industry’s demise.

While some see decay and ruin in the Packard plant, we see an opportunity to resurrect a great name while also contributing to the revitalization of America’s greatest city.

Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit
Photo Credit: Joshua Lott / Getty Images

Packard’s Detroit plant was the most advanced auto factory in the world when it opened in 1903. Construction on the renowned architect Albert Kahn’s design began in 1903. The plant was built on 35 acres of land and had over 3.5 million square feet of space. It was also the first industrial site in Detroit to be built with reinforced concrete.

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The Packard Motor Car Company established an excellent reputation for not only innovation (introducing the modern steering wheel and 12 cylinder engine), but also luxury, attracting some of the world’s wealthiest auto buyers. During WWII, the Packard plant produced engines for the P-51 Mustang fighter planes, but their status as a status symbol was gradually eroded by the introduction of cars aimed more at the middle class.

Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit
Photo Credit: Bryan Mitchell / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Losing their upper-class market and failing to establish a foothold as a middle-class manufacturer due to heavy competition from the Big Three, their final car model, simply titled the ‘Packard,’ was produced in 1958, despite the Detroit plant ceasing production in 1957. Several attempts were made to resurrect the brand, but none were successful. The labyrinthine plant in Detroit remains vacant, serving as a status symbol of a different kind.

Even when one is inside the Packard Motor Car Company, it is difficult to comprehend. Stretching for blocks upon blocks, it feels like you’ve entered a maze from which you may never find your way out. Even if you make your way to a roof to survey the site, the factory sprawls out over the horizon as if it has swallowed the entire world.

Because it has been abandoned for a long time and is located in a city that is fairly efficient at removing valuable items from its buildings, there isn’t much left to give you an idea of how it was in the past – mementos are few and far between, and vandalism and graffiti have taken their toll.

On my first visit in 2009, we saw several other people exploring the factory, and they did not appear to be threatening types, but there is always the risk of running into someone who will try to murder you in order to steal your equipment – I was perhaps never more grateful for the company of others than I was in Detroit, where the four other explorers I was with helped provide a sense of being buffered from violence.

Today’s Packard Automotive Plant

Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Despite decades of neglect, the majority of the Packard Automotive Plant is still standing, with a few structural issues. Many popular television shows have used it as a set, including AMC’s Low Winter Sun and the season three premiere of Amazon’s The Grand Tour.

The pckard plant is now mostly covered in graffiti and in a state of disrepair. Scrappers have removed much of the wiring and other materials, and vandals have pushed a dump truck off the fourth floor in one incident. It’s since been used for fun by paintballers and urban explorers, and for many, it’s just one of many symbols of Detroit’s decades-long economic decline.

Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit
Photo Credit: Joshua Lott / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Joshua Lott / Getty Images
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Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit
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Packard Automotive Plant in Detroit
Photo Credit: Joshua Lott / Getty Images
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