Largest Abandoned Factory in the World: The Packard Factory, Detroit
Packard was once a premier nameplate in the United States, mentioned in the same breath as Duesenberg, Cadillac, Pierce-Arrow, and Lincoln. The crown jewel for Packard was the Packard Factory, a 3.5 million square-foot complex sprawling across 35 acres.
In the years following World War II, the Packard Motor Car Company struggled to keep pace with the larger automakers that had been buying-up the smaller companies to form “the Big Three.” Those not part of the Big Three had to merge to stay competitive: Kaiser and Willys formed Kaiser-Willys, Nash and Hudson formed American Motors, and Packard joined forces with Studebaker. The experiment was short-lived, however, and Packard plunged into bankruptcy soon after.
Unfortunately for Packard, Studebaker was considered by many of the time to be of lower prestige and quality; the effects of the merger had a negative effect on the marketplace’s perspective of Packard cars.
The 1950’s were not kind to Packard; they went from being one of the premier car builders – outselling Cadillac up until 1950 – to complete bankruptcy.
(click thumbnails to enlarge)
In 1957, no more Packards would be built at the Detroit plant. For the next two years a handful of Studebaker models continued to wear the Packard badge until Studebaker itself could no longer carry the brand. By the turn of the decade, Studebaker would begin to pull the Packard nameplate from its models. By the early 1960s, Studebaker dropped the Packard name altogether.
Studebaker would go on to meet the same fate several years later, having survived longer only due to the differing lower-price/higher-volume sales model.
Upon liquidation, the remaining pre-war Packard designs and tooling were sold to Russian car companies. For decades Packards would continue to be built under the ZIL and ZIM nameplates, catering to the Communist elite. Post-war Packard designs would continue to appear around the Soviet Union into the 1970s.
At least the Packard name would survive. General Motors’ electrics division – now known as Delphi – was originally Packard Electric when the auto manufacturer purchased it in 1932. The company was later renamed Delphi Packard Electric Systems, and coincidentally would be the only profitable division within parent company Delphi during the late-2000’s auto crisis.
The crown jewel of the entire Packard story, however, is the factory. Designed by Albert Kahn and opened in 1903, the factory was world-class in its day. The Packard factory occupied 3.5 million square feet of space between 47 buildings. It employed over 40,000 skilled workers on a campus that spanned 35 acres.
The facility was the most modern plant of its time – the first to use reinforced concrete in industrial construction.
(Click for larger version)
The plant was closed in 1956, leaving the factory vacant. Since there was no company at the time in Detroit that required 3.5 million square-feet of space, the city considered parceling the factory out to multiple tenants – but there wasn’t enough interest.
Only one tenant other than Packard has ever occupied the factory long-term: Chemical Processing Company moved into a small part of the factory in 1958. To put the footprint into perspective, Chemical Processing’s operations required 57,000 square feet – less than 1% of the entire factory complex.
Chemical Processing would move operations in 2007. Ironically they would ultimately be a tenant of the factory longer than Packard itself, even though their lease started two years after Packard vacated. The owner of Chemical Processing admitted part of the reason for his move in 2007 was due to vandals and break-ins around the factory.
Not realizing a business is still operating there, scavengers would often break-in to cut power and phone lines for scrap copper. Vandals seem to be in a race with Mother Nature to see who can destroy the building the fastest.
Vandalism of the lobby over time: 2001 (left), 2010 (middle), 2014 (right)
panorama circa 2010
The Packard factory isn’t going anywhere soon. It would likely cost the city of Detroit over $10 million to properly raze it. With low property values and no immediate needs to re-develop the area, financially-strapped Detroit can’t justify the expense.
For decades the city offered the land for sale but there were no suitors. Finally the only ownership group that ever expressed interest purchased the land – but they haven’t paid any property taxes since they bought it in 1987 and have no plans to develop it.
Packard Factory then & now
In 2011, the Packard Factory stands as the largest abandoned industrial complex in the world. In a country where nationwide property values have increased dramatically over the last century, it is amazing to see a several billion dollar facility left to rot for over 50 years in a major city.
The façade from the main entrance recently sold at auction for $1.5M
Satellite image and map: click here
Interesting note on the map: a newer Cadillac factory – sitting just across I-94 from the Packard complex – dwarfs the old factory in size. Everything south of I-94 and north of Gratiot Avenue is mostly vacant: this is the run-down area of old industrial Detroit.
Despite being central to the overall area, the land here is very undesirable due to crime, decay, and the city’s complete lack of tending to the area. Plots of land sit vacant all over the place; some homes in the area have sold for as little as $7,000.
Above: Mean-spirited ‘Packard Crushathon’ in late 70’s decimated the remaining Packard population
Below: Packard in its heyday