Friday, March 01, 2019

(Photos) The abandoned homes near Buick City in Flint--and some history

Last month, in my latest urban exploration adventure, I visited Flint, Michigan.

Flint's ties to the transportation industry reach back before the development of the internal combustion engine automobile as it was a leading producer of horse-drawn carriages in the 19th century, which is why Flint is known as the Vehicle City.

Buick traces its founding to 1903, it was founded by David Dunbar Buick in Detroit and it moved operations to Flint the following year and began producing cars at what General Motors many years later dubbed "Buick City" at the site pictured here, which is between Industrial Avenue and James P. Cole Boulevard on the city's north side.

Those are not Buicks. On the south side of Flint is GM's Flint Assembly, which builds Chevy Silverados and GMC Sierras. Buick City appears to be a holding lot for these recently built pickups. It's unclear--to me at least--who owns the property. Wikipedia says, "The site was vacated by GM employees and site responsibilities were transferred to Motors Liquidation Company." But the latter, which was created after GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2011, no longer exists, again according to Wikipedia.

That is of course one of the many abandoned homes--this one is of course fire-damaged--near the old automobiles works.

Until the completion of Ford's River Rouge complex in 1928 in Dearborn, Michigan, Buick City was the world's biggest factory. In 1908 Buick was America's largest producer of automobiles, although it manufactured only 8,000 cars that year. The car business didn't take off until after World War I.

Another abandoned home with a collapsed portico.

It's also unclear when Buick City was razed. It occurred over many years, for sure. But when I looked at Google Maps Street View for Industrial Avenue--those photos are from 2011--many buildings were still standing.

These statues stand in downtown Flint near the Flint River. On the left is William C. "Billy" Durant, on the right is David Dunbar Buick. Durant took over operations of Buick in 1904. He was one of the owners of the Durant-Dort Carriage Company, based in Flint, which in 1900 was the largest producer of carriages in the world.

In 1908 General Motors was incorporated in Flint. The following year GM acquired Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and the predecessor company of Pontiac. It was a heady era. The corporation was financially overextended, which led to Durant's ouster in 1910. The next year Durant co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company. In 1916 Durant regained control of GM--but was forced out again in 1920. Yes, this is sounding a lot like the dot-com era of the 1990s. Of course it is. In the first thirty years of the 20th century Flint and Detroit were the Silicon Valley of that time.

Durant founded Durant Motors in 1921 but the company didn't survive the Great Depression.

One of the Durant models was the Flint.

David Buick died nearly broke in Detroit in 1928. Durant collected a pension from GM, but still had to manage a bowling alley late in his life to get by. He died in 1947.

Buick developed the first overhead valve engine, which was used in the Buick Model B in 1904. Most automobiles today are powered by an engine derived from that Buick design, so in a way if you own a car you are driving a Buick.

The drive from my home the Chicago area to Flint on February 13 was a brutal one. An unexpected snowstorm added a couple of more hours on to my trip. As I took these photos there were high winds and snow flurries, which made photography a challenge.

Yes, that's a tree growing from the porch.

By now you should realize that Flint is steeped in history, more so, in my opinion, than any American city of its size.

The general belief that the United Auto Workers was founded in Flint is false--it began in Detroit in 1935. But in the following year it organized a successful sit-down strike that was centered in Flint. That led to GM's recognition of the UAW in 1937, Chrysler followed suit the same year. Ford recognized the union four years later.

Above is Sit-Downers Memorial Park, which is not near Buick City but on the south side of town.

The bricks you see came from the Fisher Body #1 plant, one of the focal points of the sit-down strike. Pictured is a woman being dragged away by a cop with a nightstick, another woman is bringing food to strikers as a child looks on, and another is smashing a window with a baseball bat.

Another part of the memorial shows striking men sitting down. On of the sides of the base is a listing--to the current day--of the UAW presidents. Hey there, union big shots: No one cares who is the president of the UAW now or who was in charge twenty years ago.

We're back at Buick City.

Flint's recent history is mostly unhappy and of course its better days are well in its past. The decline of the domestic automobile industry hit Flint very hard, the city's hard times the 1980s was portrayed, with much embellishment and suspension of disbelief, in Michael Moore's Roger and Me. Moore grew up outside of Flint.

This forsaken home looks like something out of eastern Europe.

This 1922 Buick Coupe, photographed at the Skokie Backlot Bash auto show in 2017, was built in Flint.

The last vehicles produced at Buick City were the Buick LeSabre and the Pontiac Bonneville.

Flint's population peaked at just under 200,000 in 1960 when it was Michigan's second largest city. It now has a bit under 100,000 residents and its Michigan ranking has plummeted to seventh.

Another fire-damaged home.

Of course Flint was in the news a lot several years ago because of the Flint Water Crisis, which began when the Vehicle City switched from Detroit-supplied Lake Huron water to the Flint River.

What cities like Flint--and really every town in America needs--is more small homes like these to be built.

An American Foursquare with asphalt brick siding.

A final look at Buick City. The light blue mass in the distance is the pumping tower for the Flint Water District.

Side streets are neither plowed or salted in Flint, which made driving a real adventure in my sedan that day. Worse, Flint's roads and streets, as they are throughout Michigan, are in wretched condition. And snow obscures the many potholes and crevices.

Michigan, you should hold your head in shame. There should be warning signs as you enter the Great Lakes State.

Related post:

(Photos) Downtown Flint in winter

Related entry of mine from Da Tech Guy:

Review of Season One of Flint Town


Anonymous said...

I grew up outside of Flint in the early 60s. My grandfather was one of the original sit down strikers, and he worked for GM until he retired at 65 I think he was. My father put in 25 years at GM until he had enough. But you could see this entire companycars collapsing since the late 70s. The workers got too fat and lazy, management sucked, and the company began producing inferior vehicles with lousy quality. GM counted on "planned obsolescence" and Americans' pride of buying "made in America" while the Japanese ate their lunches with cars that lasted 4x as long and kept their value long after American cars would have been junked. I moved away early 80s and never looked back. You couldn't pay me to buy a GM vehicle now.

Burt said...

Well, like they say over in Ohio, the best part of Michigan is under water.

delraydetroit said...

Ohio: the cesspool that keeps human waste from flowing too far north.

delraydetroit said...

Seriously, thank you Ohio for being a 200 mile buffer zone that thwarts Kentuckians from hitchhiking or train-hopping into Michigan.