Packard Automotive Plant

The Packard Automotive Plant, situated in Detroit, Michigan, was once a prominent automobile manufacturing facility. Renowned for its luxurious automobiles, Packard became synonymous with the catchy slogan, “Ask the man who owns one.” At its zenith, the factory provided employment to 40,000 individuals. Despite its abandonment and state of disrepair, efforts are underway to selectively demolish and repurpose the facility for new uses.


In 1890, James and William Packard established the Packard Electric Company in Warren, Ohio, to produce arc lamps. 1 17 This endeavor significantly contributed to Warren becoming a focal point for incandescent lamp manufacturing. 17 Business flourished, allowing James Packard to embark on a European trip, during which his fascination with automobiles was sparked. Upon his return, the Packard brothers and draftsman E.P. Cowles conceived plans for a gasoline-powered carriage and initiated negotiations to purchase an engine. However, the project faltered due to financial constraints from the economic Panic of 1893.

In 1898, James Packard acquired the 12th carriage manufactured by Alexander Winton, a prominent builder of horseless vehicles based in Cleveland, Ohio. 17 Packard endeavored to drive the carriage to his residence in Warren, covering a distance of 60 miles. Unfortunately, the vehicle malfunctioned during the journey and had to be towed home by a team of plow horses. Upon returning the carriage, James provided constructive feedback to Winton, and Winton challenged him to build a better machine. 1

In response to Winton’s challenge, the Packard brothers established the Packard Motor Car Company in 1899. 6 Their inaugural automobile, the one-cylinder, 12 hp Model A, was completed on November 6, 1899, and underwent a trial run the following day. The Model A marked Packard’s entry into the automotive industry, capable of reaching speeds up to 30 MPH and boasting a range of 35 miles. 17

In 1901, Henry B. Joy, seeking involvement in the nascent automobile industry, journeyed to New York City with his brother-in-law, Truman H. Newberry, in search of a company to acquire. 1 Impressed by the Packard Model A, Joy and Newberry purchased the vehicle and drove it to Detroit. Joy then rallied investors from Detroit’s affluent families, including Newberry, to facilitate Packard’s relocation to the city. 17

Construction and Growth

Joy and Newberry successfully persuaded Packard to relocate to Detroit, establishing a factory along East Grand Boulevard, which officially opened on October 12, 1903. 8 16

In 1905, renowned Detroit architect Albert Kahn designed Building No. 10 for Packard. 7 The engineering was entrusted to the Trussed Concrete Steel Company, and construction was awarded to the Concrete Steel and Tile Construction Company of Detroit. 18 Distinguished by its use of reinforced concrete, a pioneering feature for industrial sites worldwide, 1 the building was designed in an L-shaped layout to maximize natural light infiltration. 18 Its narrower footprint allowed for a mostly column-free interior, a departure from traditional industrial buildings with steel and iron supports and minimal windows. 7

The company experienced rapid growth, with employee numbers at the Packard facility increasing from 4,423 in July 1909 to 7,121 in July 1910. 11 What initially began with just two acres of floor space in 1905 prompted stockholders to inquire about the company’s plans for the surplus space. 9 By 1910, the plant had expanded to cover 33.6 acres, incorporating new facilities such as a truck shop, foundry, and expansions to existing woodworking, body-making, and sheet metal fabrication shops. Additionally, a new administration building and powerhouse had been completed. Ongoing expansion projects east of East Grand Boulevard included the construction of new machine shops, a forge shop, a powerhouse for the forge shop and foundry, stock building, and expansions to various other departments.

The initial engine room at Packard housed a single 25 hp engine. 10 However, in August 1908, a modern power plant was commissioned, featuring a 1,500 hp Corliss engine coupled with a 1,000 kW Western Electric Dynamic operating at 250 volts, along with three vertical boilers and two water pumps with capacities of 1,000 gallons and 1,500 gallons.

The first addition to the powerhouse was completed in August 1909. 10 A 3,000 hp Cooper Corliss engine was installed coupled to a 2,000 KW Western Electric dynamo operating at 250 volts, the largest direct current dynamo running at a low voltage nationwide. Four additional 400 hp boilers and an air compressor with a 3,000 feet-per-minute capacity were added. The addition also included the erection of a 175-foot-high smokestack.

By 1910, the power plant’s capacity had increased to 6,000 hp, and new equipment was being installed to increase the size to 11,000 hp. 10 The second addition, finished in October, included a 500 hp engine and a 600-foot air compressor. Four additional 400 hp boilers were installed for a total of 11. 10 A second Cooper Corliss engine of 3,000 hp, coupled to a General Electric dynamo of 2,000 KW capacity, was planned. A condenser system was also scheduled to increase the ability of the Cooper engines to 4,000 hp.

A tunnel spanning 1,843 feet connected the power plant to the rest of the Packard facility, accommodating steam pipes, water lines, compressed air pipes, and electric cables. 13 Each tunnel included three steam pipes: a 10-inch high-pressure line that took 150 lb. of steam to operate fan engines that circulate hot air currents used for heating some of the shops; a 12-inch low-pressure line that carried steam for dry kilns and to warm the air of the fan circulation system of other buildings; and a 10-inch return pipe.

In February 1910, the Truck Department relocated to a new building south of East Grand Boulevard, initially designed to produce one truck per day. 14 However, due to increased demand, production was ramped up to three trucks per day, necessitating additional machinery and even assembly work conducted outdoors in tents to alleviate overcrowding. Construction began on a one-story extension that summer, ultimately increasing production capacity to four trucks per day. The building was unique because it was primarily a glass roof between two buildings

By August, the two new machine shops were nearing completion. 15 Over subsequent decades, the Packard facility underwent significant expansion, encompassing 74 buildings and spanning 3.5 million square feet across 52.5 acres. 1 8

Packard automobiles, produced initially by the Packard Motor Car Company and later by the Studebaker-Packard Corporation, were esteemed luxury vehicles. By 1909, Packard had emerged as a major player in the automotive industry, outselling prestigious brands such as Cadillac, Lincoln, Peerless, and Pierce-Arrow and leading the market with pioneering innovations. In 1916, Packard introduced the “twin-six,” the world’s first 12-cylinder engine. 1

By June 1, 1916, Packard employed 6,010 workers, with numerous power machines in operation and further expansions underway, including demolishing original machine shops to make way for a larger reinforced concrete structure. 9 There were 1,601 power machines in operation, 93 in storage awaiting installation, and 313 ordered for delivery.

In 1928, Packard achieved a milestone by selling 50,000 cars, with a significant portion of sales occurring overseas through dealers. 6

The Great Depression and Decline

During the Great Depression, Packard faced declining sales. However, the company remained financially stable by implementing robust marketing strategies and reducing automobile prices. In 1935, introducing a mid-priced vehicle equipped with the company’s first six-cylinder engine since 1928 led some customers to perceive Packard as no longer exclusively catering to the luxury car market. Nevertheless, the vehicle proved successful, with sales reaching 109,518 cars by 1937. 6

Following World War II, Packard found itself in a relatively secure financial position. The company had updated pre-war car models for the 1946 lineup. 1 However, as Packard began offering lower-priced vehicles and entered the taxi cab and fleet car markets, its profit margins dwindled. This shift eroded the luxury image that Packard had long upheld, resulting in declining sales after 1949. 6

By 1954, Packard’s annual car sales had plummeted to just 27,000 units. To mitigate operational and manufacturing expenses, the company merged with Stud. 1 6 Additionally, in early 1956, Packard entered into a three-year management advisory agreement with the Curtis-Wright Corporation. Subsequently, it was decided that the production of Packard cars should be halted altogether. On June 2, the final Packard automobile rolled off the assembly line in Detroit, marking the end of an era. 6


The last caretaker of the Detroit Packard factory was laid off in 1958, prompting the company to initiate the sale or lease of portions of the factory. 28 Packard Properties of Illinois secured a mortgage from Land and Norry Associates, led by Edward Land and Irving Norry, and repurposed the buildings for industrial and commercial warehousing. 3

On August 12, 1987, Packard Properties sold the plant to Bioresource, a company founded by Aziz Khondker on the same date. 28 However, Bioresource failed to pay property taxes, leading to foreclosure by the city and state in 1993. Following Khondker’s ousting by Bioresource shareholders in 1994, Edward Portwood assumed company leadership and management of the former Packard facility.

In 1996, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated a $1 million cleanup effort on-site after discovering combustible liquids and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination. 28 Despite Bioresource filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 1997, a deal with the city allowed the company to continue managing the plant and collecting $46,000 in monthly rent from tenants.

In August 1998, Dominic Cristini acquired Bioresource after Portwood’s death. 27 By this time, the former Packard property housed numerous tenants. However, in November 1998, the city council voted to remove Bioresource as the property manager, prompting increased security measures. 28 Tenants were instructed to vacate the premises by February 1, 1999, as the city contracted Diamond Dismantling for $4 million to demolish the Packard complex. A second contractor was hired to remove nearly 500,000 tires that had been illegally dumped on the grounds.

Demolition efforts commenced in January 1999 but were impeded by the discovery of asbestos and other contaminants. 28 In February, OPPMAC, led by Cristini, intervened to halt the demolition through legal action against the city. Subsequently, OPPMAC acquired the property by settling back taxes, with county Circuit Judge Michael Callahan ruling in its favor in August 2000. The judge noted that the city had failed to notify Land and Norry of its 1993 foreclosure.

On May 12, 2004, Cristini was charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs from an adjacent abandoned school and later sentenced to federal prison. 28 The last tenant at the Packard, Chemical Processing, relocated in 2010, leaving the entire complex vacant after 52 years of occupancy. 3 The metal finishing company employed only eight workers, down from its peak of 90 workers in the 1960s. The company had complained for years about vandalism at its facility, including the theft of copper from its electric and phone lines.

In May 2010, the removal of a wall section containing Banksy graffiti sparked legal disputes between Biosource and 555 Nonprofit Studio & Gallery. 2 4 The after the organization received permission from scrappers at Packard. 5 The artwork featured a boy holding a spray can with the message, “I remember when all this was trees.” Biosource became enraged when the cinder-blocked wall was removed, and the company filed a lawsuit against the studio. 4 The reveal of a legal contract for the company led Detroit to take command of the property to demolish it. The Banksy artwork was taken off display at 555 Nonprofit Studio and Gallery after it was threatened with defacement. 5

Cristini’s release from federal custody in April 2011 28 coincided with the Detroit City Council approving new demolition orders for the Packard. In August, the EPA removed seven drums containing hazardous plant waste and billed Bioresource for $35,000 for the cleanup, but it never received a response or payment. In December 2012, the county began foreclosure proceedings against Bioresource over $747,663 in unpaid taxes. The Packard went to auction in January.

The first successful bid at auction went to William Hults, a real estate developer, who proposed transforming the abandoned Packard site into loft apartments, restaurants, offices, retail space, and a hotel. 26 Hults secured a deal with the county in which his company would pay $974,000 for the property, or what was owed in back taxes. The development fell through in August due to difficulties in securing loans. 25

In October, Jill Van Horn, a family physician in Ennis, Texas, proposed converting the Packard into a $6 million manufacturing plant for modular homes. 24 Horn, who had no prior experience in manufacturing or real estate development, failed to make a $2 million down payment. 21 23

William Hults then placed a $100,000 down payment on the property on November 1 but could not make a subsequent down payment. 21 Hults, who had made a $2.2 million bid for the plant, 22 had failed to produce a $1 million payment to close on the Packard in September.

Reuse On December 12, Peru-based developer Fernando Palazuelo acquired the Packard for $450,000 19 20 29 31 after submitting the final down payment 20 in a tax foreclosure auction. 31 Palazuelo, who had redeveloped properties in other countries, proposed converting the Packard into a mixed-use residential and commercial development over the next 10 to 15 years at an estimated cost of $350 million, financed with foreign investments, tax credits, and conventional loans. 30

In July 2015, Palazuelo initiated the first phase of rehabilitating the Packard, prioritizing the restoration of the pedestrian bridge over East Grand Boulevard and the administration building. 29 The $20 million project was financed by Palazuelo’s company, Arte Express.

On January 23, 2019, the bridge over East Grand Boulevard at the Packard site collapsed. 33

With progress minimal, Palazuelo put the Packard site up for sale in 2020. 32 Subsequently, in 2021, the city filed a lawsuit against Palazuelo and Arte Express, seeking to have the plant designated as a public nuisance and demolished. 31


Following Palazuelo’s failure to appear for a scheduled trial on March 24, 2022, Wayne County Circuit Judge Brian Sullivan issued an order for Palazuelo to promptly demolish the Packard plant. 32 Palazuelo further missed the deadline to apply for demolition permits within 21 days. Following Palazuelo’s failure to comply with a 2022 court order mandating the demolition of the abandoned and deteriorating industrial site and subsequent tax foreclosure due to $1.5 million in unpaid taxes, water drainage costs, and blight tickets, the city obtained ownership of the 42-acre site. 31

In July, the Detroit City Council approved a $1.7 million contract for demolishing a section of the plant at 6199 Concord Street, which would be paid for with general funds. 32 The Detroit Demolition Department selected Michigan contractor Homrich Wrecking Inc. for the work. Work to tear down that portion of the Packard commenced on September 29. 31 32

In December, demolition efforts expanded to the next section of the Packard at the south end of 1539 East Grand Boulevard, while the structurally sound northern section was preserved for potential redevelopment in homage to the Packard’s historical significance. 31 The third demolition phase began at Packard on March 4, 2024, with Detroit-based contractor Adamo Group leading the demolition efforts at 5409 Concord Street in a five-month project costing $1.2 million.

It is anticipated that most of the abandoned factory will be demolished by the end of the year, with plans to market the site for reuse as an industrial park catering to automotive-related businesses. 31

Funding for the Packard’s demolition is provided through $26 million allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act pandemic relief funds. 31




  1. Wright, Richard A. “Once teeming with auto plants, Detroit now home to only a few nameplates.” Detroit News 16 Jan. 2000: n. pag. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. Article.
  2. Bowman, Zach. “Detroit still hunting down Packard plant owner.” Autoblog. N.p., 10 July 2010. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. Article.
  3. MacDonald, Christine. “Packard plant to lose last tenant.” Detroit News 15 Nov. 2010: n. pag. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. Article.
  4. Stryker, Mark. “Graffiti artist Banksy leaves mark on Detroit and ignites firestorm.” Detroit Free Press 15 May 2010: n. pag. Web. 21 Feb. 2012. Article.
  5. Itzkoff, Dave. “Arts, Briefly: Banksy Work is Moved After Threats.” New York Times 1 June 2010: 3. New York Times. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.
  6. Ingraham, Joseph C. “Packard Is Dropped After 59 Years.” New York Times 13 Jul. 1958: 1, 36. Print.
  7. McGraw, Bill. “When the Cars Go Away.” New York Times 13 Dec. 2008: A2. Print.
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  9. “The Packard.” The Packard. Vol. 1. Detroit: Packard Motor Car Co., 16 June 1910: 1. Print.
  10. “The Power House Itself.” The Packard. Vol. 5. Detroit: Packard Motor Car Co., 15 July 1910: 1-5. Print.
  11. “Number of Employes.” The Packard. Vol. 5. Detroit: Packard Motor Car Co., 15 July 1910: 4. Print.
  12. “Another 3000 Horsepower.” The Packard. Vol. 5. Detroit: Packard Motor Car Co., 15 July 1910: 5. Print.
  13. “Michigan Central Has Nothing On Us: We Had the Tunnel First.” The Packard. Vol. 5. Detroit: Packard Motor Car Co., 15 July 1910: 11. Print.
  14. “Truck Department Doing Things.” The Packard. Vol. 6. Detroit: Packard Motor Car Co., 22 July 1910: 11. Print.
  15. “Machine Shops ‘Getting There’.” The Packard. Vol. 8. Detroit: Packard Motor Car Co., 12 Aug. 1910: 12. Print.
  16. Jenkins, W. C. “World’s Greatest Auto Town.” National Magazine 31 (Mar. 1910): 613-614. Print.
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  18. “Packard Motor Car Company.” Reinforced Concrete in Factory Construction. 8th ed. 1907. New York: Atlas Portland Cement Company, 1915. 143-152. Print.
  19. Gallagher, John. “Developer in Peru makes final payment on Packard Plant.” Detroit Free Press 12 Dec. 2013: n. pag. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. Article.
  20. Reindl, JC. “Packard Plant bidder says he’ll live there, lure auto suppliers, build go-kart track.” Detroit Free Press 26 Nov. 2013: n. pag. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. Article.
  21. Reindl, JC. “Developer fails to deliver on promise to make $300K Packard payment.” Detroit Free Press 4 Nov. 2013: n. pag. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. Article.
  22. Reindl, JC. “Could Packard get Peru savior? Wayne County awaits cash from No. 2 bidder.” Detroit Free Press 30 Oct. 2013: n. pag. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. Article.
  23. “Wayne County cancels Packard Plant sale after buyer misses deadline, offers it to second bidder.” WXYZ. 10 Oct. 2013: n. pag. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. Article.
  24. Nicholson, Eric. “Meet Jill Van Horn, the Ennis Doctor Who Punked the Entire City of Detroit.” Dallas Observer 31 Oct. 2013: n. pag. Web. 16 Dec. 2013. Article.
  25. Reindi, JC. “Packard plant could go on auction block, sell for $21,000, if latest development deal falls through.” Detroit Free Press 22 Aug. 2013: n. pag. Web. 16 Dec. 2013. Article.
  26. MacDonald, Christine. “Developer seeks new life for crumbling Packard Plant.” Detroit News 17 Jul. 2013: n. pag. Detroit News. Web. 16 Dec. 2013. Article.
  27. Dixon, Jennifer. “Man behind Packard Plant has long said he owns it, but facing lawsuits, now doesn’t.” Detroit Free Press 2 Dec. 2012: n. pag. Web. 16. Dec. 2013. Article.
  28. “History of the Packard Plant.” Detroit Free Press 2 Dec. 2012: n. pag. Web. 16. Dec. 2013. Article.
  29. Reindl, JC. “Palazuelo restoring Packard bridge with historic photo.” Detroit Free Press 21 May 2015: n. pag. Web. 1 Dec. 2015. Article.
  30. Christoff, Chris. “Detroit’s Ravaged Packard Plant Looks to Europe for Renaissance.” Bloomberg Business 29 Apr. 2015: n. pag. Web. 1 Dec. 2015. Article.
  31. Rahal, Sarah. “Packard Plant to be fully torn down by year’s end as city seeks new auto plant: Duggan.” The Detroit News, 4 Mar. 2024.
  32. Williams, Candice. “Partial demolition begins on ‘scary’ Packard Plant.” The Detroit News, 30 Sept. 2022.
  33. Reindl, JC, and Ann Zaniewski. “Historic Packard Plant bridge collapses in Detroit.” Detroit Free Press, 24 Jan. 2019.


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This is an excellent and comprehensive discussion of Packard. I would like to correct one area of confusion. Regarding the following paragraph: “In 1905, renowned Detroit architect Albert Kahn designed Building No. 10 for Packard. (7) The engineering was entrusted to the Trussed Concrete Steel Company, and construction was awarded to the Concrete Steel and Tile Construction Company of Detroit. (18) Distinguished by its use of reinforced concrete, a pioneering feature for industrial sites worldwide, 1”

This is correct except that Building No. 10 was not particularly notable and it was preceded by the all concrete Cadillac Motor Company factory building at 450 Amsterdam street in Detroit. The Cadillac plant was designed by Kahn’s former mentor and partner George D. Mason. It was engineered and constructed–as was Building No. 10–by the Trussed Concrete Steel Company and its construction subsidiary, the Concrete Steel and Tile Construction Company.

What’s interesting is that the Trussed Concrete Steel Company (and its construction subsidiary) was founded and headed by Julius Kahn, Albert’s younger brother. Julius was a civil engineer and in 1902 invented a new type of steel reinforcement bar, the only such bar that was based on a practical and scientific theory of concrete reinforcement. The Kahn Bar, as it was called, rapidly became the most popular method of reinforced concrete construction worldwide.

By the time Building No. 10 was completed (in early 1906), several reinforced concrete factory buildings had been constructed in Detroit, including the Burroughs Adding Machine Company’s 1905 factory. The tiny Building No. 10 was only 17,000 square feet in size and intended mainly as a means of convincing Packard that reinforced concrete was superior to brick and timber construction.

For more on this topic see the article “The First Concrete Auto Factory: An Error in the Historical Record” from the Journal of Architectural Historians, December 1, 2019, or the forthcoming book “Concrete Century; Julius Kahn and the Construction Revolution” due out September 2024.

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