Thursday, June 6, 2013

You Could Be the Man Who Owns It: Detroit’s Storied Packard Plant Complex Slated for Auction

You Could Be the Man Who Owns It: Detroit’s Storied Packard Plant Complex Slated for Auction:

Long considered a jewel in the crown of Detroit “ruin porn” by urban explorers and history buffs, it appears the former Packard Plant has finally met a foe more powerful than arsonists, vandals, and neglect: the tax man. After years of standing in silent disobedience of likely every ordinance on the books, Wayne County has finally tightened the noose and will be offering the plant at a foreclosure auction this September. Looking at it in its present state, it’s hard to believe cars as beautiful as this 1934 Packard V-12 LeBaron Sport Coupe emerged from its doors.
According to Crain’s Detroit, the bidding will start at around $975,000, the sum of the taxes owed on the 43 parcels that make up the complex. If the auction is a bust, the individual properties will be offered at another auction in October with a starting bid of $500.00 per parcel. Addressing the question of the plant’s condition, David Szymanski, Wayne County chief deputy treasurer, was quoted as saying “there are more questions than answers.”

To understand how people in our region can get a little misty-eyed over the demise of what appears to outsiders to be just another decrepit potential Superfund site, a little history is in order:
Known simply as “The Packard” in Detroit parlance, the first stone was set in 1903, when the Packard Motor Car Company made the move from Warren, Ohio, to its new home on Detroit’s East Grand Boulevard. Thus was set in motion a tumultuous century-long existence that would rise and fall with the city’s fortunes. Designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn, the Packard was up and running by 1907, and quickly became a sprawling complex that stood as a testament to the sheer enormity and clout of the industrial revolution. At the company’s peak in 1943, Packard employed some 36,000 people, almost all of them in Detroit. In addition to automobiles, the factory also contributed heartily to both war efforts, cranking out aircraft and marine engines for the U.S. and its allies. The last Packard automobile rolled off the line here in 1954, and the last plant caretaker was laid off in 1958. By the time the century came to a close, the Packard was ground zero for graffiti artists, scrappers, urban explorers, illegal dumping, raves, and would-be arsonists.

Stories abound regarding the goings on behind the walls of the 35-acre facility (fun fact: a civil defense shelter, complete with disintegrated survival rations, was recently discovered in the Packard’s nether regions), and the last few decades have left a trail of nearly indecipherable legal orders and title work that made issuing the foreclosure a Herculean task. For a full rundown on the Packard’s past, present, and future, check out the well-researched and comprehensive piece—including the recent events leading up to the foreclosure—that appeared in the Detroit Free Press earlier this year.

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