Packard Motor Car Company
Location Name: Packard Motor Car Company (Detroit, Michigan)
Location Type: Abandoned Site (Automobile Factory)
Year Completed: Various, Began 1903
Architect(s): Albert Kahn (and others)
The Packard Motor Car Company moved to Detroit from Warren, Ohio in 1902. The complex grew quickly over the years, but no buildings were as important as Building #10. Building #10 was constructed in 1905, designed by architect Albert Kahn. The significance of #10 was in its use of reinforced concrete. Prior to #10, industrial buildings were cluttered with many columns and very few windows; this was necessary to distribute the weight load of the buildings. When Kahn employed reinforced concrete, he was able to design a factory with fewer, stronger columns, and pierce the walls with more windows to allow in sunlight. The benefits of reinforced concrete architecture in industrial construction was proven at Packard and changed the way buildings were made in the future.
Packard built luxury cars in Detroit for over half a century. Packard also produced aircraft and marine engines for the military during World War II. Despite all its successes, Packard hit hard times in the 1950s. The brand was sold to Studebaker in 1955, but that only temporarily revived the historic brand. In 1956, the last Packard rolled out of the Detroit factory, and the factory’s fate was sealed.
The Packard factory remained somewhat occupied after Packard closed its operations. Many smaller businesses rented space at Packard, but the complex was never without vacancy. In the 1980s, as the complex deteriorated, artists hosted art shows and people organized underground illegal all-night rave parties. The Packard rave scene helped incubate Detroit’s version of electronic dance music, known today as Techno. In the early 1990s, Splatt Ball City (a paintball course) operated in the Packard complex. With fewer and fewer tenants, Packard fell prey to hard times, and the last tenant moved out in 2010 - long after the complex hit rock bottom.
The 3.5 million square feet of development on a 35 acre site has become a symbol of Detroit industry’s downfall, and many efforts have been made to bring an end to the dangers of what many believe to be an eyesore. Packard has been vandalized for years, but most significantly from the work of scrappers who destroy the buildings to profit from the metals they can plunder. For years, people have used Packard as a place to dump trash, tires and other dangerous wastes. The factory has been the victim of many fires which have damaged some buildings beyond repair. Left open to the elements, wind, rain, snow and ice have all done a part to make Packard generally unsafe for those who dare to enter.
Today, Packard is a haven for artists, photographers, and urban explorers as well as more shady visitors who use the privacy of Packard to strip down stolen cars, or to engage in other devious behavior. The site has become a mecca for artists who seek to leave their mark on Detroit’s urban decay. Art envelops Packard, most created by kids with spray paint but some by artists with international reputations. Packard has been more notable recently as a haven for artists who use the scenery to make statements about society and its ills. In 2009, artist Scott Hocking completed his installation of ‘Garden Of The Gods.’ Using the columns as pedestals, the twelve gods of the classical Greek Pantheon are replaced and represented by wooden television consoles found elsewhere in the building.
In May 2010, famous British graffiti artist Banksy used a crumbling wall in Packard to depict the figure of a child holding a bucket of red paint alongside the message “I remember when all this was trees.” A group from a local art gallery removed the wall section and it is now in their gallery. The owners of the complex are suing the art gallery to have the Banksy artwork returned. The city is pushing for the demolition of the building, while preservationists have grander plans. Packard is finding itself in the news quite often of late. Whether it is a fire, scrappers, urban explorers, pranksters, a Hollywood film crew or an elusive graffiti artist, there is always something happening at Packard. Packard’s future is unknown at this time. One thing is sure, at the current rate of destruction, Packard may not have much more time without some help.Sources