Ford Piquette Avenue plant now open for tours

1909 Model T at Ford Piquette plant

1909 Model T at Ford Piquette plant

The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant National Historic Landmark, the first factory built for and owned by the Ford Motor Company, will open for another season of public tours and events on April 3, 2013. This non-profit museum is the only “Brass Era” automobile assembly plant in Detroit that is open to the public. A small army of volunteers are painstakingly preserving this 1904 brick and timber structure. It was designed as a fire safe building by Detroit architects Field, Hinchman and Smith, now the Smith Group, the oldest architectural firm in the United States.

On the tour, see where Mr. Ford and his associates built Models B, C, F, K, N, R, S and then the Model T; the car that put the world on wheels. Each model was a technological leap over the previous. The Ford Model T would revolutionize the way automobiles are designed and built. After only six years, in 1910, The Piquette Plant had grown from thirty employees to 1,661 and was superseded by Mr. Ford’s giant Highland Park Plant.

During the nineteen years that the plant was operational, the time required to assemble a Ford automobile dropped from twelve hours to twelve minutes. The price of a Ford automobile dropped from $850.00 for a Piquette T, to $260.00. The Ford Motor Company created the greatest world marketing system in the automobile industry. Mr. Ford reduced the work day from ten hours to eight hours. Wages for a Ford employee grew from thirty cents an hour to $5.00 per day—the largest wage paid to a manufacturing employee anywhere in the world at the time. The “American Dream” of owning land and your own home, and sending your children to college drew immigrants to Detroit, from all over the world.

Out of Piquette, and Mr. Ford’s battle with the Selden Trust, grew the largest engineering society in America. Out of Piquette grew the Arsenal of Democracy that would dominate World War II military arms production. Yes, and out of Detroit’s automobile industry further grew the unions, assuring living wages, job safety and a comfortable retirement for factory workers.

2013 is the 150th birthday of Henry Ford, Automotive Pioneer. The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant will participate in a year-long celebration of everything Ford sponsored by The Ford Motor Company, The Henry Ford, The MotorCities National Automotive Heritage Area, The Woodward Avenue Action Association and The Henry Ford Heritage Association. Celebrate Detroit’s automotive heritage and spirit of innovation. For information call 313-872-8759 or visit www.TPlex.org and www.MotorCities.org

Visit The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant National Historic Landmark right in heart of Industrial Detroit, in Milwaukee Junction, April 3 through October. Hours are Wednesday through Friday 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Saturday 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Sunday 12 Noon to 4:00 PM.

The museum is located at 461 Piquette Avenue, three blocks east of Woodward and three blocks south of East Grand Boulevard. From I-94 you can take the Woodward Avenue exit..

The Model T Automotive Heritage Complex, Inc. owns and operates The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. The Model T Automotive Heritage Complex, Inc. is an independent 501 (C) (3) non-profit corporation preserving The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant and is not affiliated with The Ford Motor Company. All donations are Tax Deductible.

A community bands together to save the Dalgleish water tower

Detroit is a city in flux.

Signs of decay and neglect are everywhere; a city built for millions now languishes with seven hundred thousand. A city rich in history and flush with gorgeous architecture constantly reminisces about herself. She looks in the mirror, remembering when she was young and full of vitality. The mirror is harsh. Time has been cruel. Reality sets in.

As with any grand old dame, however, there are so many stories. There is also that rare chance, that opportunity, that moment where she can shine one more time.

There are so many people here that are working to make Detroit beautiful again. There is a new group of people emerging out of the turmoil; those who want to be here. Those who choose to stay. Those who desire to see the grand old dame take center stage again. Those who remember, even if they weren’t even born yet.

The Tower

Dalgleish Water Tower, Detroit, MI old locationOn top of the 1927-built Dalgleish Cadillac building, there was an iconic water tower. It defined a bit of skyline in this area. The building, like so many others around it, fell in to decay and neglect when the area worsened, but those days have passed. Wayne State University is turning it into a 200,000 square foot, $93 million biomedical research center.

The plan, however, didn’t (and couldn’t) include the historic water tower.

Various groups raised their voices, but it was just words without weight. Would anyone… could anyone actually handle the logistics of saving the water tower?

We’re talking about a steel structure of unknown structural integrity, weighing approximately 25,000 pounds, that sits forty feet and more in the air. When faced with the reality of the scope of the project, the voices settled down. Groups that were interested in supporting the project dropped out. It didn’t seem possible to save it.

It seemed destined for the scrap heap. Doubtless some enterprising scrapper would have a field day shredding the tower and selling it for pennies per pound, dragging it bit-by-bit in the back of a rusty old pickup truck to the wink-and-nod scrapyards that Detroit is home to so many of.

It seemed a sad and unfair end for such a beautiful structure. The cross-hatched steel supports and the craftsmanship of the dome are things that required a lot of manual labor hours back in the days when that was affordable in America. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.

The Move

Dalgleish water tower - coming downTom and Peggy Brennan from Detroit’s Green Garage were contacted, and they came through just when things looked bleakest for the tower. They agreed to take the water tower, disassemble and move it, and ensconce what they could of it at their sustainable apartment development on Second, the El Moore.

In keeping with the Green Garage’s sustainability and re-use ethics, they wanted to repurpose as much of the structure as they could, and keep it as intact as possible.

When deconstruction began, it was discovered that nearly a ton of pigeon droppings had been sitting in the bottom of the dome for who-knows-how-long… and pigeon droppings being acidic, the 1/4″ steel of the bottom had been eaten away to the point where you could see sunlight through it. It would never hold water again, that was clear.

Dalgleish water tower - heading down Cass

Moving the massive structure had its own logistical and engineering challenges. It couldn’t be moved down Second because of something with the bridge over I-94. It had to come down Cass. It needed a police escort. It was very heavy.

The Wayne State Police graciously stepped up to the challenge, with very little advance notice, and provided the “Wide Load” truck with a path down Cass… during the middle of the school day at Wayne State. It made it. People marveled at the sight.

Dalgleish water tower - at El MooreA new place to gather

Afterwards, in discussing the move, the Green Garage’s Jason Peet told a group assembled for their weekly Friday community lunch, “It would never be used as an actual water tower again, but we had some ideas. We wanted it to anchor a community. We had an empty corner lot and now we have something. People have already started gathering under it and saying things like ‘Meet me under the water tower’”. It is now a destination. It is now a landmark.

A community can come together to achieve all kinds of amazing things; sometimes, that amazing thing is moving a big ol’ chunky water tower just because a few people cared enough to save it.

Why Milwaukee Junction should be a World Heritage Site

This is a guest post by Gerard Santoro, the Program Manager for Land & Water Resources for the Department of Planning and Economic Development in Macomb County.

First production Ford Model T

The first production Ford Model T, made in Milwaukee Junction

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. David Biskner, Board President of Friends of Milwaukee Junction, and what a pleasure it was. In my Graduate Studies in Urban Planning I was introduced to the Milwaukee Junction Industrial Neighborhood in the heart of the Motor City; however, what I didn’t realize then was the depth or impact that this particular neighborhood made on the peoples of the entire world.

After a few fast-talking hours of being exposed to this great complex of old, beautiful, and haunting industrial sites, it is my belief that this area is as significant as the ancient Roman Forum Ruins, or the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Now, hear me out on this one….

The birth of industry and the middle class

The concepts of the “assembly line” that were done on the hypothetical scale at Henry Ford’s Piquette Avenue Plant became the reality of automation the world over. It created efficiencies that made a real and stable “middle class”. Since then, these same concepts today have progressed and have had the power to turn third-world countries into global players. It ushered in a lifestyle that was only known to the noble and aristocratic classes of former millennia—now one-third of the world exploits the pleasures afforded by these same efficiencies birthed out of the automotive assembly line. Here, right here in the heart of a downtrodden, gritty, and magnificent Old Detroit, sits the increasingly guarded ruins of industry. In this area stands one of the most significant sites to the forward progression of mankind since the early Industrial Revolution, or the formation of civility of society at the Roman Forum and the Greek Parthenon, or the establishment of the World’s religions in Jerusalem. Put Detroit’s Milwaukee Junction right up there with the greatest of places that changed the world!

It’s right here in our backyards, at the Milwaukee Junction of Detroit, and it is perhaps very ripe to become a future World Heritage Site if it gets the recognition that I think it deserves.

The very few that have long understood this deep and guttural magnificent history among the industrial ruins of the world’s greatest industrial city have stood as knights to protect this great secret about Detroit. It is now that the world must stand up for this great area and celebrate it as it does the Forum, the Coliseum, or the Dome of the Rock.

Professional Urban Planners are often asked to support the efforts of those that are grassroots and trying to get a place or cause into a higher focus. A walking tour of the area with Dave Biskner was just the beginning of a whole new and deeper understanding of this Automotive Heritage Complex. The Russell Industrial Center, the Studebaker Plant, just to rattle off a few…the list was impressive. I kindly asked about the famed, but vastly unknown Piquette Avenue Plant—the plant that most automotive heritage scholars know as the “Mecca” of the industrial world.

Piquette Avenue is the very location that Henry Ford, and others like Horace and John Dodge, incubated the concepts of efficiency into the emerging automotive industry. The Dodge Brothers and their ideas of the efficient gasoline fuel motor integrated into Henry Ford’s ever-improving efficiencies of the manufacturing of an automobile. The drive and great ideas conceived on these hallowed grounds—along with the early Dodge Mansion which is a stone’s throw away in the haughty Boston-Edison Residential District—was to change the world as we knew it forever.

If you want to see and experience this great area, put this place at the very top of the attainable things to do in your own personal “Bucket List”. Plan ahead to visit the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, and the huge Russell Industrial Center’s Artist Colony and Bazaar. This is truly, in my opinion, one of the world’s great locations, and it is now under the care of the Friends of the Milwaukee Junction.

It’s time to stand up and let the world know how important Detroit is to human history, and no other specific region within our city shows it off better than Milwaukee Junction.