MotorCities National Heritage Area
Vintage_Car_Side_Mirror-cropped.jpg

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Architectural Afterlife, Chrysler Archives
Published 12.22.2021

American Motors Building Architectural After Life 1The American Motors Building in Detroit (Architectural Afterlife) 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan held a news conference on December 9 outlining the process for the demolition of the American Motors Building in Detroit. For many years, this building had a great and wonderful history in the refrigeration and automotive industry.

AMC Building on Plymouth Road in 2010 Architectural After Life 2Another angle of the AMC Building on Plymouth Road in 2010 (Architectural Afterlife)

This building that helped put America on wheels is located at 14250 Plymouth Road in Detroit and was built as a Kelvinator appliance factory between the years of 1926 and 1927. The Kelvinator Corporation was established in 1916 in Detroit by Buick executives Edmund J. Copeland and Arnold H. Goss, along with engineer Nathaniel Wales.

In 1925, Kelvinator introduced the first fully self-contained electric home refrigerator. The product quickly became very popular in American households.

Color ad 1940s for Nash Kelvinator Chrysler Archives 31940s Nash Kelvinator ad (Chrysler Archives)

The building was designed by architect Amedeo Leoni. He was asked to construct a building that included a very impressive office area in the front of the building with a three-story factory in the back of the complex. The completed complex contained 1.5 million square-feet of space.

Sikorsky Helicopter Airforce Museum Dayton Ohio 4A Sikorsky Helicopter (US Air Force Museum, Dayton, Ohio)

On January 8, 1937, Kelvinator merged with the Nash Motor Company. The new company became known as Nash-Kelvinator. As World War II loomed, the Plymouth Road facility was expanded to increase production in support of the country’s war time efforts. In 1944, 262 helicopters were manufactured and completed at the Plymouth Road plant under a contract with the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. After the war, auto production resumed at the facility.

American Motors Corporation logo Chrysler Archives 5The American Motors Corporation logo (Chrysler Archives)

In 1954, Nash Kelvinator merged with Hudson Motors to form the American Motors Corporation (AMC), and the building would become a center for automotive research and design. AMC became a pioneer in the compact car category in the early 1960s.

In 1968, AMC sold off their Kelvinator appliance operations, however, the company maintained its headquarters at the Plymouth Road facility until 1973, when they announced that the headquarters would move to a new building up the road in Southfield, Michigan. The Plymouth Road complex continued to operate as AMC’s engineering center.

A stairwell inside the building today Architectural After Life 6A stairwell inside the building today (Architectural Afterlife)

On March 10, 1987, the Chrysler Corporation announced the purchase of AMC for $1.5 billion. Some automotive historians said that American Motors had been a small company by industry standards and struggled to survive for many years. However, during the 1960s and early 1970s, the American Motors Building was home to a worldwide automotive business. I remember during the early 1970s when the American auto market saw names like the Ambassador, Rebel, Rambler, Javelin and the popular AMX models.

An office inside the building today (Architectural Afterlife)An office inside the building today (Architectural Afterlife)

The 1987 Chrysler purchase of AMC was focused around getting the popular Jeep line. In 1996, Chrysler had planned to move many former AMC employees out of the American Motors Building to the new technical center in Auburn Hills, Michigan. By 2009, when Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, the last employees working at the American Motors Building moved out. The edifice has stood abandoned for many years since, becoming an eyesore in the city of Detroit.

Outside of the building today (Architectural Afterlife)Outside of the building today (Architectural Afterlife)

In conclusion, it was announced on December 9, 2021 that the vacant American Motors Building along Plymouth Road will be demolished. Under the proposed agreement, North Point will disburse $5.9 million dollars to acquire 56 acres of public owned property for new development. Although the American Motors Building will no longer exist, it will always be remembered as a site that offered so many great memories, now a part of our automotive history.   

Bibliography 

American Motors Corporation. “American Motors Family Album.” First Edition, February 1969.

Afana, Dana. “Former American Motors Corporation headquarters to be razed for $66M redevelopment project.” Detroit Free Press, December 9, 2021.

Architectural Afterlife website. “The Abandoned American Motors Corporation Headquarters.” December 21, 2020.

Mayor Mike Duggan’s Office. “Mayor announces $66 Million redevelopment agreement for long-vacant American Motors HQ.” December 9, 2021.