The walkway bridge isn't what it appears to be. The Potemkin arch covered by a mesh overlay banner has only been since March, put there by the latest owner of the industrial wasteland, Spaniard Fernando Palazuelo, who purchased the property from Wayne County in a foreclosure sale for $405,000, even though he was financially wiped out in the 2008 recession. Palazuelo estimates that it will cost $350 million to restore the Albert Kahn-designed factory--he envisions as mixed use development that will include industrial space, apartments, and artist studios.
Well good luck with that! Ground level of the Packard plant is nearly completely covered by rubble and trash. Last year Palazuelo proposed hosting a concert by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at the old factory. Where would the musicians sit? Would the DSO's insurance company sign off on such a dangerous performance? Who would attend? What if it rains or snows?
There is graffiti but no windows. Yet there is a billboard declaring "Revitalizing the Packard Plant." Really...
Detroit's squalor is particularly intriguing to European tourists. A Belgian man snapped this photograph of me standing on what I believe is a onetime factory wall.
Four stories up--a cottonwood tree and a Siberian elm grow amid the trash.
Nature is slowly reclaiming the Packard plant.
Oh, what was a Packard? They were luxury vehicles that outsold Cadillac in the 1930s. Why? Because Packards were better. Packard began producing cars in 1899--the plant opened in 1903 and it continued pumping out vehicles until 1958--two years after the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana purchased the car maker.
Here's a 1956 Packard Executive, which I photographed at the now-defunct Morton Grove Classic Car Show in 2012.
Studebaker's strength was low-cost entry level cars--and Packard of course focused on the high-end market. The marriage should have solidified two consumer segments but the Studebaker-era Packards were viewed as inferior. The Detroit plant closed in 1958, the last Packard-named car was produced in 1959. Studebaker closed its doors in 1966.
Not all of the floors of the giant old workshop are as bright as this one. After my visits last month I learned that at the Packard plant, muggers seeking victims lurk. Cars parked nearby are often broken into and sometimes jackals throw bricks and boulders at those vehicles. Be careful, my fellow urban explorers.
But having spent about one-quarter of my life within Chicago's city limits--I've learned that open space and clear views offer some protection from crime. Thugs prefer alleys and darkness. Yes, that's my car in the photograph. Oh, how did that tire get on that roof?
Detroit: Crumbling factory next to a cemetery