MotorCities National Heritage Area

By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher
Images: Courtesy of The National Automotive History Collection
Posted: 07.08.2015

Some of the most beautiful and admired architectural buildings in the world are located at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan.

The complex was first created by former chairman Alfred P. Sloan who directed the late former president Harlow Curtis with a great task of putting this all together during the early stages of its development. Former head of design and V.P., Harley Earl, also played a vital role in this great project and brought aboard the great architect Eliel Saarinen along with his son Eero Saarinen to develop a beautiful one-square mile campus.

file 20150708081729 GM Tech CenterStainless Steel Water Tower at the GM Tech CenterGeneral Motors broke ground on Oct. 23, 1945. The 640 acres began its transition from a former 1940s farm land to the landmark it is today. A general view of the General Motors Technical Center complex includes across the 22-acre of an artificial lake, over 18 miles of sidewalks, 28 miles of roads and more than 500 acres of shrubs, grass and trees along with engineering and other great buildings as well.

Three million ceramic glazed bricks, inspired by the colors of autumn leaves, were used to color code the magnificent buildings around the campus. The engineering buildings were completed in 1951, followed by research, manufacturing, and styling structures. Standing at the northeast corner of the lake, a 140-foot stainless steel water tower containing 250,000 gallons of water dominates the landscape in a beautiful and distinctive way.

Another handsome landmark located on the Technical Center grounds is the aluminum skinned domed styling auditorium spanning 188 feet in diameter. The most recent architectural addition to the campus was the 2.2-million-square-foot Vehicle Engineering Center or VEC tower. This massive eight-story structure pays homage to the existing architecture of Eero Saarinen.

file 20150708081827 GM Tech CenterAuditorium of the GM CenterBy 1956, Life magazine had called the GM Technical Center “An industrial Versailles." For General Motors, “The General Motors Technical Center is that dream come to life.There is good reason to believe that nowhere in this country, or even the world, is there concentrated within an area of a square mile such a collection of technical knowledge, experience, skills, and facilities,” (PR Staff- GM).

Visitors driving though the main gate pass under the famous moniker that reads “Where today meets tomorrow;" which is truly a timeless description of General motors and its Technical Center.

file 20150708081914 GM Tech CenterStaircase at the GM Tech CenterGeneral Motors celebrated its opening day on May 16, 1956, however on Tuesday, May 15, representatives of the press, radio and TV had the opportunity to inspect and photograph this historical event. At the time, all GM plants joined together in celebration with a nationwide open house on the same day. The dedication and ceremonies at the Technical Center included former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who spoke to the 5,000 distinguished guests, who were in attendance for this great historical event.

During its celebration, America had an exciting look at the Technical Center through the lenses of television cameras on May 20 when NBC presented an hour-and-a-half show titled “Promise for America."

The late Mr. Harlow H. Curtice said, “I am confident that it helped give the public a keener appreciation of how advances in research and technology lead to better process and products." In the late 1970s, General Motors became the first manufacturer to build its own on-site wind tunnel, a complex laboratory costing $70 million, which gave the campus a big advantage over other automobile makers. In the 1980s, the introduction of computers, aiding engineers, designers and research has had a huge impact on the way GM employees work at the GM Technical Center. The true genius of this magnificent campus facility has been its ability to transform and maintain a constant state of the art operation.

file 20150708082012 GM Tech CenterWhere Today Meets TomorrowDuring the 50th Anniversary of the General Motors Technical Center, it was said that “Today, [being] globally linked to all of GM’s facilities worldwide has had significant effect on GM’s expanding technical expertise provided by diversified employees. A half century of visionary work has resulted in some of the world’s most extraordinary ideas. From the campus’s opening through to today, a continuous stream of GM products have emerged from this complex.”

On a personal note, I had the opportunity to work at this beautiful campus many years ago within the archives department, and I can truly say that it was one of the best experiences in my life.

file 20150708082101 GM Tech CenterGM Tech CenterA special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection. (Bibliography: Public Relations Staff- General Motors- Detroit. “Where Today Meets Tomorrow” General Motors Technical Center. 1956. GM Folkes vol 19 no 6 pg 1. “Dedicated to the Inquiring Mind” June 1956. )

A special credit to the late Mr. Ezra Stoller- Photographer 1956.

A special credit to the 50th Anniversary of the General Motors Technical Center committee.

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