Detroit is the largest city in the state of Michigan, and was once a world class industrial powerhouse as well as the 4th largest city in the United States, a title it held until the mid 20th century. Later in the 20th century, industrial restructuring and trouble in the auto industry led to a dramatic decline in jobs and population.
Detroit’s population peaked in the 1950’s at over 1.8 million people, a number that declined rapidly in the years and decades following
Currently, the population of Detroit is roughly 672,000 people, the population hasn’t been this low since 1910, before the automotive boom.
In 1910 Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry when he virtually created the assembly line at his Highland Park Plant.
This innovation transformed mass production and created Detroit’s growth and industrialization.
Entrepreneurs in the Detroit area capitalized on the already-existing machine tool and coach-building industry in the city to forge into the production of automobiles.
As Ford’s rivals quickly adopted his manufacturing techniques, the automobile industry flourished and essentially elevated Detroit from a second-tier industrial city to a world-class city.
Thus, Detroit earned its famous nickname, the Motor City
The Packard Automotive Plant was an automobile manufacturing plant located on 80 acres of land in the east side of Detroit.
Packard opened to much fanfare in 1903 and at the time was considered to be the most modern automobile manufacturing facility in the world.
Now, in 2022 and for several decades past and likely into the foreseeable future – this once booming industrial giant sits like a scar on the heart of Detroit.
Join me as I take you on a tour of one of the largest abandoned properties in the entire world – the Packard automotive factory
In May of 2022 I headed over the US border for the first time in 26 months to meet up with my friend, fellow photographer, explorer and Detroit resident, Robert M. Robert has lived in Detroit his whole life and has an incredible body of work from the streets of Detroit, taken over decades of work as a local photographer.
I asked Robert if he would like to meet up and show me around as it’s never a good idea to wander around Detroit alone, especially when carrying very expensive camera gear.
The Packard plant started out at 10,000 square feet, gradually growing to 14 acres and then ultimately to 80 massive acres and several city blocks.
At its peak the Packard complex employed 40,000 people, including skilled craftsmen involved in over eighty trades. The plant turned out Packard automobiles from 1903 to 1956, except during World War II, when production was shifted to war materials
The last Packard car to roll out of the plant was in 1956 and the plant closed for good in 1958.
Between 1958 and 1990 the property was rebranded as the Motor City Industrial Park, housing several different companies, or used for storage. One by one tenants would vacate their space leading to the ultimate abandonment of this huge industrial space.
In the 1990s the Packard plant was a popular destination for underground raves, and as more and more tenants vacated the site, its popularity as an urban exploration destination grew.
While ravers and urban explorers enjoyed Packard for their own reasons, so did the vandals and the scrappers. Scrappers have removed every possible bit of valuable metal, wiring, window frames and other materials. Much of this scrapping and vandalism has led to destruction and collapse in many of the buildings.
Over the years many dead bodies have been discovered inside Packard, on Christmas Eve 2013 a group of Urban Explorers came across the frozen body of a young black man who had been murdered.
In October 2013 the body of a Wayne University student was found shot at the Packard site.
Also in 2013 a group of Urban Explorers were robbed and carjacked at the Packard site, the tourists were robbed of their 2004 Pontiac Vibe, $143, wallets, cell phones and a Canon camera.
In 2019 a group were playing hide and seek inside the Packard plant when a 21 year old man was running on the 9th floor and fell to his death in the elevator shaft.
Over the years the Packard site has been used for many TV shows, Movies and Music Videos
In 2009, Eminem used several Detroit abandoned locations to film the video for his song Beautiful. In the video, he can be seen wandering and performing at the former Tiger Stadium, Michigan Central Station as well as several scenes inside Packard.
In 2016 the film Transformers filmed scenes inside the Packard plant, for the scene Two Chicago Transit Authority trains were positioned as if they careened off their artificial rail lines, and giant gears and machinery lie in pieces around the set.
In 2015 a british photographer obtained permits for a two day shoot in the Packard plant. This photo shoot included a tiger, bobcat and two wolves. But during the shoot, the tiger got loose and holed himself up in a stairwell on the 4th storey.
The trainers were eventually able to capture the tiger and get him back in his cage, the project managers for the Packard plant quickly canceled the photo shoot as they were not made aware of any wild animals, only that there would be models.
My experience at Packard, while short, was very much enjoyable and long overdue. Never have I seen such a vast site of post-apocalyptic ruins with endless corridors and hallways. It would take someone a whole week to explore the entire facility, and while I only scratched the surface, my 4 hours inside were definitely well spent.
What the future holds for this site is still to be determined, on March 31, a Wayne County Judge ordered the Peruvian owner of Packard and his local company to clear the site within 90 days.
90 Days to raze what took decades to build, followed by decades of suffering at the hands of scrappers, graffiti artists, ravers, apocalyptic movie crews, and tour guides.
According to court documents, the owner must have applied for the demo permits by April 21st and the demo work was to start on May 12th.
The documents stated “All necessary abatement shall be completed within 90 days of this order”
If the owner did not take appropriate action as directed by the courts, the city of Detroit was authorized to “engage qualified contractors to perform all demolition and other necessary actions to abate the nuisance.” all at the expense of the property owner.
Both dates mentioned above came and went with no applications for permits and with no heavy equipment moved to the site, so on May 4th 2022 the city of Detroit started accepting contractor bids to demolish the buildings.
Other than some newish looking fencing around some of the buildings – there was no sign that any demolition would be starting any time soon.