MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Buildings of Detroit, Packard Motor Car Company and the Detroit Free Press
Published 10.12.2022

Packard manufacturing plant in the 1920s Buildings of Detroit 1The Packard manufacturing plant in the 1920s (Buildings of Detroit)

One of the world’s finest automotive manufacturers of the past was the Packard Motor Car Company in Detroit. For many years, the Packard manufacturing plant sat vacant at 1580 East Grand Boulevard Avenue in Detroit with great memories of beautiful and prestigious automobiles from many decades ago.

Recently, it was announced that the Packard plant will be demolished very soon. As a young child in the early 1960s, my mother would shop for groceries at the A&P supermarket across the street from the Packard plant. I remember how beautiful the area looked at the time with all the trees lining East Grand Boulevard. At the time, the building was still in great shape, and the Packard memories inside those walls were still fresh. Hundreds of people had worked there dating back to the early days of automotive manufacturing and design. This story is about the great memories many people still have the iconic Packard plant.

1930s Packard ad Robert Tate Collection 2A 1930s Packard ad (Packard/Robert Tate Collection)

In 1903, the automobile industry was rapidly changing, and the Packard plant had just opened for business. Earlier, on October 2, 1902, the business name was formally changed to the Packard Motor Company with James Packard as president. The plant had been designed by Detroit’s preeminent industry architect Albert Kahn.

Another 1930s Packard ad Robert Tate Collection RESIZED 3Another 1930s Packard ad (Packard/Robert Tate Collection)

The building initially offered 10,000 square feet of floor space, and automotive historians have said it was considered the most modern automobile manufacturing plant in the world. More than 40,000 men and women also assembled Packard automobiles there between 1903 and 1956.

1930s Packard ad Robert Tate Collection RESIZED 4A 1930s Packard ad (Packard/Robert Tate Collection)

Over the years, the Packard automobile was perceived as a high end, great looking, and prestigious car that could compete with Cadillac in the luxury category. Packard’s beginnings actually were in Warren, Ohio as the Ohio Automobile Company (the business’ name in 1900). A group of investors convinced James Ward Packard and his brother William to move the company to Detroit. The original Packard manufacturing plant would eventually grow to include 80 different buildings located over 80 acres of land. During World War II, Packard shifted production from cars to airplane engine assembly.

1940s Packard auto assembly line Packard 5The Packard auto assembly line in the 1940s (Packard) 

Over the years, Packard introduced many great automobiles and produced advertising that reflected their product quality and luxury brand image. “Ask the man who owns one” was a popular Packard slogan used to sell their lines. Both their products and advertising were very well-received by consumers.

1950 Packard sales showroom Packard 6Some 1950 Packards on display (Packard)

In 1954, Packard purchased Studebaker, which prompted many questions. The merger did not go over well within the auto industry. In 1954, sales were lackluster, and the last Packard made in Detroit came off the line in 1956. After that, the Detroit plant closed its doors, and production for the brand shifted to the Studebaker facilities in South Bend, Indiana. Both brands days were numbered, with the final car carrying the Packard brand produced in 1958 and Studebaker lasting only a few more years into the early 1960s.

A 1954 Packard ad Robert Tate Collection 7A 1954 Packard ad (Packard/Robert Tate Collection)

Today, the demolition of the Packard complex is already underway. On September 29, 2022, the City of Detroit said in a news release that demolition was going to begin at the long-vacant Packard facility. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said, “Every building that we can save we’re going to save, but those that can’t be saved we’re going to protect the community and surrounding neighbors.” The city stated that the first part of the demolition is expected to be completed by the end of December, however, the complete dismantling of the entire complex will take about two years and cost $15-20 million.

The Packard Plant undergoing demolition Detroit Free Press 8Demolition underway at the Packard plant (Detroit Free Press)

In conclusion, the Packard nameplate’s legacy will always be a part of our automotive history books for many generations to come. 

Bibliography    

Afana, Dana. “Crews begin demolition of a portion of Detroit’s Packard plant.” Detroit Free Press. September 29, 2022.

Pinho, Kirk. “Demolition of part of Packard plant begins, Duggan vows Palazvelo will pay.” Crains Detroit Business. September 29, 2022.

“Michigan begins demolition of the long-vacant Packard auto plant in Detroit.” Associated Press. September 30, 2022.