It has been a long time since the last Packard rolled of the assembly line at this factory in Detroit. Construction for the Packard Plant in Detroit started in 1903 and the last cars were manufactured in 1956. Other businesses have been in these buildings after it closed but it has been mostly empty since the 1990s. The 3,500,000 square foot (325,000 square meters ) plant was designed by the famous architect Albert Kahn and was considered the most modern car plant in its time. It is now the biggest eyesore in Detroit and plans for demolishing this giant have been challenged by ownership, tax, environmental and City of Detroit issues. As for now, it just sits there as a reminder of the past and future for this once thriving Motor City.
This visit was on a cool spring day in early April. Snow on the ground was gone and these colder temperatures are probably good for not encountering too many other people, loiterers, urban explorers, animals and the stench of whatever garbage is strewn across the old factory floors. This urban war zone is not the only abandoned factory in Detroit. There are several others like the Hudson and Fisher plants but this Packard plant is the grandest, biggest, ugliest, most significant and most infamous of them all. There also are other automotive historic places like the Ford Piquette plant that have been saved from destruction and are now preserved for the future. This plant, however, is far beyond any possibility to be saved.
Possible threat lurking around every corner
Curiosity was stronger than fear of falling through a floor or suffering any other bodily harm. There are some ramps inside the north end of the building which lead all the way to the roof. The sections that are far away from the exterior are dark and sinister, a possible threat lurking around every corner. The ceilings are charred by the many fires over time. Detroit firefighters do not respond to these fires anymore as it is deemed too dangerous to enter. If time travel would be possible, going back 60+ years in time and see what this place once used to be would be high on the list for any automotive enthusiast.
It was a calm day and, except for some traffic noise from the nearby highway, the place was eerily quiet. Silence gave it an even more macabre feel. Every sound you hear from a bird or other animal, a piece of building disturbed by the wind or noise made by other people seems to be amplified when it is this quiet. Louder noises make your heart skip a few beats and it feels the building is capable of swallowing you in one piece without warning. Nobody will hear you scream.
The building itself is merely a carcass with walls and floors being the only reminder this was a car factory at one time. The interior has been stripped of anything that had some value. This must have been an amazing place for scrappers and souvenir hunters many years ago. But these days, life seems to have been sucked out and there is nothing left. Mostly that is, there still is a feeling the once grand building has some life in it. Like a wounded animal twitching before gasping its last few breaths. Perhaps it is just a Lazarus reflex.
The cold dark floors and ramps opened up to the roof, the sun coming through the clouds trying to brighten up the view just a little bit. Downtown Detroit still lays in the distance like it has for so many years when this factory was the center of industrial activity in the city. The brown and bleak landscape surrounding the factory looks like a war zone. There doesn’t seem to be any hope for revival, even though some parts of the city show progress compared to 10 years ago. These buildings, however, are definitely beyond hope for any future.
Exploring the Packard Plant
Thinking of going here and see for yourself? You better think again. While this place may look harmless in pictures, it really is a dangerous place on so many levels. Ceilings and floors have many holes, they can cave in at any time and walls can easily collapse. Missing manhole covers expose dangerous depths of the sewers below. Bricks may fall from the outside walls and it won’t be a great experience if one falls from the fifth story and hit you on the head. Depending on the time of year, ice and snow may make things slippery and tumbling from the roof into a pile of bricks or twisted steel won’t be such a great experience to share, if you’re lucky.
Those are just the least of your problems though. Stories in the press reported about visitors exploring the Packard plant have been beaten and robbed. There are so many places for people with bad intentions to hide and prey on these day trippers. Vehicles parked near the plant get broken into and contents being stolen caused by drug-infused desperation. Detroit has many homeless residents and, while they may not have bad intentions, people living in dark corners of this lawless wasteland may not welcome visitors.
This place is private property so it is illegal to even be there. Not that there will be a big chance you’ll get arrested for trespassing by the Detroit Police. They hopefully have better things to do than respond to a call for help from trespassing suburbanites. The owner doesn’t seem to mind too much either. Not visiting is the safest choice. If you still want to go, a larger group of people and perhaps some personal protection is probably the best choice.
After returning to my car that was parked in front of the abandoned grocery store on East Grand Boulevard, an older black man was walking around and making wild gestures. I had seen him before an tried to ignore. Fearing the worst, it turned out to be a nearby resident trying to make the best of the situation. There still are many good friendly people in Detroit, even though it may not seem like that at first. We had a brief conversation and he explained he has lived in the area for fifty years now and is trying to help plant visitors. A parking attendant to scare of vandals if you like. Don’t count on these good people though.
Where it is
So where is this Packard plant? An official address for the plant seems difficult to find but 1574 East Grand Blvd, Detroit, Michigan is the closest to the old front entrance. Google Maps: link 42°22’41.3″N 83°01’40.9″W
There were 1800 car manufacturers in the USA from 1896 to 1930. Only a few survived to this day so old and new companies are part of automotive history. A few historic pictures of how it once was. Find many more on packardinfo.com.
These are some screenshots from Google Maps.
The Norwegian band Röyksopp recorded a video for their song ‘The Drug” at the Packard plant a few years ago. Three girls walking around this eerie place and encountering a few ‘residents’ sends chills up your spine. Play it loud and you get a good feel for the dying spirit of this old factory.