Largest Abandoned Factory in the World: The Packard Factory, Detroit

Packard was 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 purchased 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 ceased to exist by the middle of the twentieth century.

Packard factory entrance
Packard factory entrance

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During the 1950’s Packard endured an economic roller coaster, from being a premier auto manufacturer outselling Cadillac, to closing its doors within a decade.

(click to enlarge)

Packard plant building a car 1930s
Inside the Packard Plant, building a car circa 1930s. (courtesy Joan Hector. Her grandfather, Oscar Piche, is pictured at top left)
Packard factory entrance circa 1940s
Packard factory entrance circa 1940s
Packard factory entrance circa 2009
Packard factory entrance circa 2009

  Entrance to the Packard factory: then and today

By 1957 Packards were no longer assembled at the Detroit plant. For the next two years a handful of Studebaker models continued to wear the Packard badge, but by the turn of the decade Studebaker began to pull the Packard nameplate from its models. In the early 1960s, Studebaker dropped the Packard name altogether.

Studebaker would also meet its demise several years later, believed to have survived longer due to the lower-price/higher-volume sales model.

Upon liquidation, the remaining pre-war Packard designs and tooling were sold to parties around the world. For decades Packard clones would continue to be built in Russia under the ZIL and ZIM nameplates, catering to the Communist elite. Post-war Packard designs in the Soviet Union lasted well into the 1970s.

Packard advertisement circa 1956
Packard advertisement circa 1956

The Packard name would survive. General Motors’ electrics division – later 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.

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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 interior space across 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, and the first to use reinforced concrete in industrial construction.

(Click for larger version)

Vintage aerial view of Packard Factory
Vintage aerial view of Packard Factory

 Packard Factory*

After Packard

The plant was closed in 1956, leaving the factory vacant. The city lacked options; finding another tenant for the 3.5 million square-feet of space would be a difficult task.

[ Below: lobby vandalism over time. 2001 (top), 2010 (middle), 2014 (bottom) ]

Packard factory lobby circa 2001
Packard factory lobby circa 2001

Administrators considered parceling the factory into multiple lots, but a lack of interest stalled the proposal.

One tenant other than Packard has occupied the factory long-term: Chemical Processing Company moved into a small part of the factory in 1958.

Packard factory lobby circa 2010
Packard factory lobby circa 2010

How small?  Chemical Processing’s operations required 57,000 square feet – less than 1% of the factory complex.

Chemical Processing would move operations in 2007, and ironically occupied the factory longer than Packard itself.

packard plant entry detroit 2014
Packard factory lobby circa 2014 courtesy Tabula Rasa

The owner of the business 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 in operation, scavengers would often break-in to scavenge scrap materials; vandals damage buildings and accelerate the plant’s deterioration.

Packard factory panoramic shot circa 2010
Packard factory panoramic shot circa 2010

 
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The Future

Several investor groups have proposed ideas for the plant, but to date none have been able to come to the table with money and get approval from the city to execute plans.

For decades the city offered the land for sale, however there were no suitors.

The most recent ownership group hadn’t paid property taxes since 1987.

Packard Factory then & now

As of mid-2011, the Packard Factory stands as the largest abandoned industrial complex in the world.

The façade from the main entrance (pictured below) sold at auction in 2008 for $161,000

Packard factory façade
Packard factory façade

Packard Factory entry door  *

Packard factory
Not a Packard, but an appropriate resting place nonetheless.

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Packard factory aerial view 2011
Packard factory aerial view 2011 (courtesy Google)

Explore on map: click here

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Packard Factory
Not a Packard, but they got the era correct.

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Packard Winter Wonderland
Packard Winter Wonderland

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Packard Factory
Also not a Packard. Also not the correct era. Who knows why.

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Packard factory hallway
Packard factory hallway

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Below: Packard “Crushathon” in late 70’s decimated remaining Packard population.

Fire Breaks out:

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Below: In better times.

Packard factory circa 1910s
Packard factory circa 1910s

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Aerial view of the Packard factory, circa 2011
Aerial view of the Packard factory, circa 2011

Video Tours:

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