Historic Model T Plant May Open to Public

The Michigan Ford Motor Company factory that produced millions of Model Ts might be open for public touring and may host a visitors center that will promote tourism in Detroit if a community development group is successful in its plans.

The model T production complex was designed by Albert Kahn and built in the Highland Park area in Detroit.

The Woodward Avenue Action Association plans to purchase and renovate a section of the complex which was designed by Albert Kahn and built in Detroit’s Highland Park district. The historic facility created the average daily wage of $5 that enabled the working class to become the middle class and was the original home of the moving assembly line that changed auto making forever.

Opening the facility to the public now has special significance considering what is happening in Detroit right now, says Heather Carmona, executive director of the association. The significance of the place and the important changes it made in manufacturing in the 20th century is very relevant to the changes the U.S. auto industry is going through and the major revitalization efforts in Detroit. Carmona says, “That rebirth we can use and tie to the history of the building.”

Ford sold the facility to a private company years ago, although it still uses a portion of it. Past uses of the building included housing military production in World War II. Machinery and records were kept there during the war, says Ford historian Bob Kreipke. Parts of the complex have also been used by other businesses.

Kreipke said, “It was quite a unique building. For a number of years, it was the largest inside manufacturing facility in the world.” He also noted that other Ford plants were modeled after the Detroit facility.

The Woodward Association wants to raise around $800,000 toward the purchase of a portion of the complex. It predicts that the proposed renovations will run about $8 million. The association is hoping that the agreement that is being negotiated now will end in the purchase of the section of the facility that houses the old administration building, which would be remade into a visitors center. A great deal of work would be needed for the renovation; the ceilings are falling in, some windows are boarded and the building is in need of extensive general repairs.

Completion of the renovation could take five years, but tours could start sooner than that, says Carmona. Donors of all kinds will be sought, including groups, individuals and corporations, and applications for state and federal grants will be written.

In addition, the association has entered the Ford plant into the “This Place Matters” contest which is being held by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The prize is $25,000 to be used for preservation projects and online voting will continue through September 15.

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