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If you’re a real auto enthusiast, you’re well aware of the old Packard plant in Detroit. Packard was the ultimate American luxury vehicle for decades. Stars, famous sports players, and political elite all drove Packards. Wayne County Judge Brian Sullivan today announced a default judgment, imposing demolition of the 111-year old Detroit facility beginning in mid-May. But that is easier said than done. 

Why has it taken 66 years to tear down the Packard plant?

abandoned Packard plant
Ruin porn abandoned Packard plant in Detroit | Getty

It has been a long, excruciating saga watching the 40 acres, Packard plant go from one swindle to the next. Soon, all of this will come to an end. While enthusiasts and Detroit elders wanted to see the plant rise and shine as a mixed-use property, officials have made concessions for one owner after another.

Tax breaks, low-interest funding, and deadlines imposed and then extended, today the Detroit judge said enough is enough. Owned by Peruvian developer Fernando Palazuelo’s Arte Express Detroit, grand plans were put forth for the property back in 2013. But the city has already foreclosed on more than 25 properties Palazuelo owned. 

When will the Packard plants demolition begin?

Packard plant
Ruins of the Packard Automobile Company’s factory in Detroit. The plant was designed by Albert Kahn in 1907 and was the first to use reinforced concrete. At one point, Packard was the biggest-selling luxury car marque in the United States | Getty

The city of Detroit filed a lawsuit seeking recovery of unpaid fees and taxes due last year. But Palazuelo did not appear in court to address the lawsuit. So Judge Sullivan ordered Palazuelo to begin demolition. If he skirts the demand, the city will hire demolition contractors to begin work, and he’ll be on the hook for the expenses.

But Palazuelo has been incognito according to Fox2 Detroit. He has not been able or refuses to respond to the city. “Palazuel never delivered on anything, said city of Detroit attorney Charles Raimi. “He just left this horrible, blighted, dangerous property sitting in the middle of the city for years. 

Why is the Packard plant significant?

Packard Motor Car Company
Packard Motor Car Company, Detroit, Michigan, in 1910 | Getty

When designed in 1907, it was hailed as an architectural masterpiece. Designed by Albert Kahn, he was responsible for numerous plants in and around Detroit. But this was the first to incorporate reinforced concrete for structural support. This would become the go-to solution for massive assembly plants for decades. 

Packard assembled hundreds of thousands of automobiles, and engines for the war effort in the 1940s at the plant. Facing tough competition from Cadillac, it sought additional capital through a merger with Studebaker. Plans called for sharing components to reduce development costs. 

Studebaker hid production costs and other issues. By the time the two companies merged, it was too late. Cars produced by Studebaker cost the company more than it cost GM to build Buicks and Cadillacs. Yet, Studebakers competed with mainstream autos like Ford and Chevy. 

Why did Packard abandon the plant?

1934 Packard
Actor Burl Ives looks like a present-day Baron of industry sitting in his 1934 Packard touring car. Costar Jean Simmons (in costume), and visitors Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer visit | Getty

Soon after the merger, management felt the tiered assembly of Packards was obsolete, and bought a one-story plant from Chrysler on Connor Ave., to build refreshed 1955 Packards. But the plant offered much less space than the old East Grand Ave. plant, which posed many problems during assembly.

This created subpar builds and poor quality, which hurt Packard’s already clouded reputation. The 1956 Packards are considered the last true Packards. In 1957, Packards were just reworked Studebakers. Known as Packardbakers, it was the beginning of the end. Packard went away in 1958. 

The Packard plant morphed into a small business property, housing separate businesses. But much of the property was empty, attracting the curious, copper and steel scavengers, and as a dumping ground for used tires and other trash. Over the decades, numerous owners have scammed the city about plans for the property’s resurrection. This brings us to today.

After so many chances, this is it

1956 Packard Caribbean
1956 Packard Caribbean convertible | Getty

The plant has had too many chances, seen too many scams, and dodged dangerous conditions. In 2019, a bridge connecting sections of the plant collapsed. This is when the city began demolishing sections of the plant it had jurisdiction over. 

So this is finally the irreversible fate of the Packard plant. It has been the world’s largest abandoned property for decades. It is not a fitting end, but what can you do with 3.5-million square feet of an assembly plant?

There are plenty of restored Packards to herald the luxury and glory days of the company, so it will always be a part of automotive history. It’s just that the physical presence of the place these glorious cars were made will no longer exist.


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