Packard Plant in Detroit – motor history in an urban wasteland

Packard Plant - Detroit Michigan

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.

Packard Plant - Detroit Michigan

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.

Packard Plant - Detroit Michigan

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.

Detroit Michigan

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.

Packard Plant - Detroit Michigan

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

packard plant location

 

 

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.

packard plant historic 1 packard plant historic 2

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.

 

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5 thoughts on “Packard Plant in Detroit – motor history in an urban wasteland

  1. Wow. Cool adventure. I’m glad you made it out alive. I used to live in Windsor and would visit Detroit all the time. It is a shame there is not more revitalization going on. That neighbour who scared off vandals is key. If there were more good samaritans in the neighbourhood and support, what could we create with our forgotten urban spaces?

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  2. I used to work in downtown Detroit near the riverfront for many years about 10 years ago. Driving through it these days, most of the city hasn’t changed much. The riverfront is being cleaned up though and there slowly is some progress there. Just wish it would go much quicker, Detroit deserves a second chance to become a vibrant city again. It’s just sad it will be too late for saving most of these historic buildings.

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  3. Great report and I’m happy that I found it…

    As I’m working in the German automotive industry and am up here in Detroit on business, I decided to go there today despite of all negative considerations one could have.
    Since the whole neigbourhood deemed not very trustworthy, I circled around in the car, but figured that quite many people are actually inside the building.

    I turned from E. Palmer Avenue into Bellevue St. heading S, where I found about eight cars parked and being watched by a military veteran named John.

    He gave me directions and convinced me that it will be safe to explore the building. With as many as 20 people, even kind of a film team, around, I felt pretty safe and entered a stairwell John directed me to. I got to the third floor and could use a bridge to another building. So I explored the ruins for more than one hour.

    It turned out to be a yet unique experience to me, and with all the people around and John watching the cars, I felt pretty good anyway.

    Anyway I would second all the advices made above, it IS still risky but going on a weekends day with good weather and many people around, it shouldn’t be to risky.

    Thanks for th report that made me going there!

    Take care,
    Peter

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  4. It is such a shame what has become of Detroit. 40, 50 and 60 years ago, Detroit was top class city and world renowned for it. Now it is known for all the wrong reasons.

    The Rust Belt has been in decline for a while and hopefully can come back.

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  5. Watching Netflix this morning, Forgotten Planet: Abandoned America. I came to this site to see more of the old buildings and read about Detroit and other places which gave hope to so many and allowed hard working people the opportunity to raise their families and live the “American Dream”. There was a time when lines formed at the entrances of these old factories across the country with men and women ready to give their hands to hard work to live and enjoy the kind of life people in other countries could only imagine. Where those factories are today I’m not certain. Today lines form even for the most menial of positions which can’t possibly compare with the old jobs like Detroit provided. From the foundation of this country America was blessed b y God. The people knew this and willingly and openly gave thanks. Today it seems not so many people are open to giving thanks or ever bowing their heads. If we want toever restore this country and once again live “The American Dream” then we must return to giving thanks to our creator and stop serving self. It’s our only chance.

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