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A Possible End to a Favorite 'Ruin'

Like many Detroit-area residents, I hate when pictures of the decaying Packard plant shows up as a symbol of the city's demise. Most people call this "ruin porn."

Good news -- it may be getting blasted if "Transformers 3" decides to shoot here. And it sounds like one other investor is looking at it for rehabilitation. Either way, a decision would be nice.

According to MLive quoting the Tribune Chronicle, "a major Hollywood studio is studying it as a site for shooting the 'Transformers 3' movie. The reason? It can blow things up in it, and the damage hardly will be noticed."

With its post-Apocalypse bleakness and history of fire, water, wind and extreme vandalism - even shocks from ''techno'' music youth raves - Detroit's massive Packard Motor Car Co. factory has become a metaphor for a struggling city and the entire U.S. auto industry.

Rising four and five stories above ground, with more space below ground, the Packard complex grew into a 3.5 million-square-foot behemoth. ... For decades, the factory produced what was considered the world's best luxury cars, surpassing even GM's Cadillac and Ford's Lincoln brands, before the last Packard rolled off the line in 1956, the victim of its larger rivals' superior marketing and financial power.

Small chemical, manufacturing and other companies nestled in the complex's strong walls after car production ended. But the gradual erosion of Detroit's urban core since has exposed the buildings to the city's homeless, criminals and vandals - sources of numerous fires over the years - and attracted others with its aura of bygone glory.

The building covering 38 acres is listed for sale for $13 million, although someone who could cash out the owners, Bioresources Inc., probably could get it ''for a lot less than that,'' said David Wax, who's selling the property for Burger Easton & Co.

Wax said he was scheduled to meet last week with people from the Paramount movie studio who are looking at the building to shoot the third installment of the blockbuster Transformer techno-fiction movie series.

''They fell in love with it because they can blow up parts in the movie and it won't matter,'' he said.

Wax said he expects to meet toward the end of the month with someone with a longer term interest and who, ironically, could push the century-old factory into the forefront of the automotive industry's drive for energy efficient vehicles.

''I have a party from out of town who wants to bring a 'green' car company to Detroit and feels he can rehab the plant,'' Wax said. ''It'd be a major project to put Humpty-Dumpty back together, but the feeling is the bones are still good. It's probably 10 times today's standards for strength.''

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  • 1

    That is the place where Nils Joel Skrubb, completely redesigned the Rolls Royce Merlin to American Standards and perfected it. And that is one place where they were built. The Packard Merlin is considered to be one of the greatest engines of all time. Placed in the P-51 D Mustangs it was an unbeatable combination.

    Anyone thinking that Packard was inferior should remember the Packard Twin-Six engnes and their many engines used in aircraft in WWI. Eddie Rickenbacker drove the Staff Car (A Packard Twin-Six) for General Pershing and became a friend of Billy Mitchell. Eddie built Eastern Airlines, the first successful carrier.

    When Goehring heard and saw the Mustang fly overhead he commented that the war is over.

    There has been some revisionist history lately saying that it was simply the RR engine licensed and built by Packard. Not so at all. Nils labored for 6 months memorizing the RR Plans and making notes for imporvemtnest before he set pencil to paper to draw up his design.

    Remember that the Tuskeegee Airmen drove that plane and Coleman A. Young was one of them.

    So the Packard plant played a huge role in the Allies winning in WWII. And laterally it played a huge role in the Civil Rights Movement because those Airmen were not about to go back home and be abjectly subservient.

    And it was here too that William Allison, the UofM "Engine" grad, designed the famed Packard Torsion Ride suspension. Jay Leno talks about Bill in his site on the Packard Caribbean. Fun and very insightfully informative.

    And in his retirement Bill perfected the Wind Engine and achieved the 60% theoretical Maximum Efficiency.
    My article on Bill and his efforts will appear in altenergy.mag later this month.

    What is not mentioned in the article is that Bill would go into gales of laughter when he saw the 3 bladed designs. They were way too low in effciency by his standards.

    So what is Buford Pickens doing sticking up those 3 bladed fans all overTexas? A larger art project takeoff on the finned Cadillacs suck in the ground? This really isn't the time for Art sarchasm.

    It's dufus as hell what we are doing with wind energy, and that includes Jennifer's flapper in her back yard.


  • 2

    Clearly Chip Lord from Ant Farm, the Toby Barlow of another Century, could do something interestng with the Packard Plant.



  • 3

    ''They fell in love with it because they can blow up parts in the movie and it won't matter,'' he said.

    It won't matter ? To who? Hollywood? Of course it won't matter to them, they don't live here, they can't see the history in a building like that. I wouldn't let them within one hundred miles of it. Find something in LA to blow up.

  • 4

    This is just another sad commentary on how little effort the City of Detroit has made to preserve its rich automotive history.

    In 2008, the main entrance to the factory, which fronted on East Grand Blvd, was auctioned off and is now at America's Packard Museum in Dayton, OH. The Packard Motor Car Foundation at the Packard Proving Grounds in Utica, MI tried to save it but they could not match the winning bid. However, they did manage to save the employee entrance but that entrance lacks the 1907 date.

    I'm not sure the entire factory can be saved but some effort should have been made by the city to, at least, save and restore the administration bldg with the PACKARD 1907 stone entrance. America's Packard Museum belongs in this bldg and not in Dayton, OH.

    Now LA, which despertately wants our auto industry, is coming to Detroit to erase whatever they can of our automobile heritage.

  • 5

    How could it not matter? There are still one or two businesses over there. But at the same time I've watched Red Dawn blow up an old Tuffy station. And I don't think that Transformers messed up the old train station too much when shooting the first one. I think most of the explosions are computer generated anyway. If its not going to be torn down, it would be nice to see it being used for something.

  • 6

    I started the effort to save Downtown Hudsons with some other key people still around, like Kathy Wendler who later got Mexican Town going and developing it's identity.

    So Jeff9809 is right on and his comment about a sad commentary on how little effort the City of Detroit has made to preserve it's rich automotive history can be extended to include it's rich Architectural History.

    People for Downtown Hudsons met at the Scarab Club where I lived for quite some time and finally spun off into Cityscape Detroit.

    Hudson's was the heart of the City and the main reason to go downtown. It could have become the Great Detroit Automotive History museum and AutomotiveArchival Center, and Automotive Hall of Fame. The building is of Fireproof construction which is long gone and it was structurally so sound that it held a brinks truck driving around to the various cash registers.

    Different manufacturers could have been assigned different floors and a floor or two dedicated to Hot Rods and Custom cars and one for motorcycles along with a huge artifact shop and swap center and Auto themed restaurants would have kept it a great draw for Downtown.

    If you read the New York Times article at the time you would have read my comments about how to pronounce Detroit... which degenerated into Destroyit.

    It is absolutely true that no one kept the Manufacturers together to create a wonderful monument to their efforts.

    The one thing that really has done that is the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise which never seems to make it Downtown where it all started.

    So few seem to understand that a Downtown is like a Party. If you keep killing off the guests, pretty soon there won't be a party at all.

    It's a great thing that Athens and Rome did not have demolition funding.

    The old County Building, the Book Building, the University Club, The great Detroit Boat Club, come to mind as the next items on the demolation slate. How callous and ignorant we have shown ourselves to be.

    I argued with Bill Colburn who was at the heart of Preservation Wayne that it was important to save Hudsons but he was on another tack. But seeing the greatness fall, much like watching the nutcase people trying to kill King Kong, really hurts those who knew and those who cared.

    It is not just about single buildings, it is about the greater assembly and Urban History too.

    It's as if we do not grasp our importance in the evolution of man. Others know and understand. And they have created their museums as city draws all over the country.


    • 6.1

      ia,...YOU'RE one of the best bloggers on this site! I totally agree with the salvaging of Detroit's manuf. history! I started a small grassroots (cynics would say 'weed roots'cuzz it pertains to Detroit) movemnt to ' Save the Stove ' 25-30 years ago when what was left of the orig. was still stored at Fort Wayne. Indeed, I nearly secured $50000 in cash from UPS(It was runner-upto St. Francis Home For Boys, I believe!) ..But The man(can't remember name: I think his brother was an old Det. News writer) in charge of the fledgling City's Historic Dept. eventually got the job done. For over 30 years , I've written letters outlining a plan for,..W.A.M.! The World Automitive Museums! Literrally Ft. Wayne or Fairgrounds 9Belle Isle) could hiost what, instead, has madePA. the Car Hobbys' top spot. THERE, thouands of jobs have been made by , of all people , a retired auto Industry Exec.!, whose assistant actually stated that Carlye is the REAL MOTOR CAPITOL!!.....Also, welding , designing, restoration, everything, could be taught to HS and EVEN a COLLEGE fOR the Manufacturing "arts" could be started. It would be a companion to, not a replacement for, THE old HENRY. Building and Infrastructure Sciences would also be HEADQUARTED THERE, not in L. A., or TOKYO, or BERLIN, or NURBURGRING. The Synergy would be Unreal!! Many areas could be Historicly anchored by old Auto plants, and their suppliers! Each manuf. in the industry could, with a 35-40 million dollar seed money, display THEIR History...NOT in Suburban Auburn Hills, or Dearborn only. These prm. displays would draw thousands of paying customers who would of people . A true AUTOWORLD, not some half hearted Flint -type deal.TY!...Along with Dream CRUISE type events, the entire Metropolitan area would befit. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX !!events, millions

  • 7

    Apparently we share the same memories and love for Hudson's. Hudson's was a world class store, equal to or better than Marshal Fields or Macy's. Many will say that we foolishly hold on to the past but the greatest sin Detroit has ever commited was to implode this beautiful bldg.

    As a youngster living in Livonia in the 40's, my mom would take me to Hudson's for the entire day. After exploring every floor from 1 to 11, my reward was the 12th floor toy department. We would then reverse the procedure from 12 toward 1 but security would intervene and gently coax us down the escalator since it was past closing time. My mom worshiped Hudson's.

    I have 2 vivid memories of Hudson's which I hope you can expand on.
    1) Every floor had these beautiful brass, fluted, water drinking fountains at each end of the elevator banks. Some had a child size version next to the adult size. The only one that I know of that still exists is in Macy's in Somerset Mall in Troy. I have heard that a number of them are stored in a warehouse in Minneapolis, MN. If they do exist, they belong in the Detroit Art Museum. They are a work of art in themselves.

    2) From Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, I recall a serial radio show for kids sponsered by Hudson's. The show I recall featured a young brother and sister marooned on a desert island. They were chased by a mechanical crab monster which threw bowling balls at them with its claws. I'm sure I saw cutouts of the characters on the walls of the 12th floor toy department when I visited Santa seated in the balconey overlooking toyland. I have asked everyone who has any familiarity with Hudson's about this and no one can confirm it. Prehaps it's just a figment of my imagination.

    Hudson's was the heart and soul of Detroit. There were thousands who witnessed and cheered the implosion only to be overcome by the thick clouds of dust which enveloped them. A just reward for their stupidity.

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