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Monday, September 27, 2004

Ford Motor Company Highland Park Plant, Highland Park, Michigan

The Ford Motor Company Highland Park Plant was built between 1909 and 1920 on the lot bounded by Woodward, Manchester and Oakland Avenues, and three railroad tracks. An office building, a garage and several machine shops once stood on a portion of the site. At this plant, Ford instituted the "five dollar day," a generous wage for the time that improved employee retention and some say helped to launch the middle class in America.

In factory "L" he began mass producing automobiles on moving assembly lines. Detroit architect Albert Kahn designed the complex, which included offices, factories, a power plant and a foundry. by 1915 Ford built a million Model T's. In 1925 over 9,000 were assembled in a single day. Mass production soon moved from here to all phases of American industry and set a pattern of abundance for 20th century living. A Michigan historical Commission marker commemorated these accomplishments, by naming this site #3 in their registered sites program.

Through this door Henry Ford and other innovators of the automobile industry once passed through. Today the building is empty.

In 1927, Ford shifted auto production to the River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, limiting Highland Park to truck and tractor manufacturing.

This city that bore Ford's vision and had such an important imprint on America and the world through innovation in mass production processes, had an equally spectacular fall following the loss of Rod's plant. Eventually this was shuttered and close, as the industry came to favor more geographically dispersed outlying areas that did not bring with them problems of the city from congestion, to municipal interference, and the threat of unionization. The Ford Motor Company Lamp Factory in Flat Rock, Michigan is one example of this trend towards decentralization. This left Highland Park in a precarious position with plummeting population, and with that tax revenue and customers to support the civic and commercial infrastructure that had been established here. To this day hulks of buildings belie their former glory. The abandoned Police Headquarters is one such example, as is the shuttered Public Library.

In an effort to reinvent itself during the last decades of the 20th century, new development occurred on the former Ford Motor Company site. A CVS placed precariously close to Ford's headquarters building, has a stylized car cut-out on its wall.

In the grocery store that came to the neighborhood, conscious efforts were made to evoke the earlier automotive heritage of the site inside. A reproduction of Diego Rivera's murals from the nearby Detroit Institute of Arts is included, as are other blown up historic photos, and even a full size car produced at the site and placed behind a glass window over the recycling area near the entrance.

The Highland Park Plant is a National Historic Landmark. In 1997 a historical marker was placed at the site of the plant. Such designation would seem to indicate a potential resurgence for this area. Until preservation advocates, private property owners, and public officials are able to form consensus on an approach for such rehabilitation, then the true potential of this site and the historic community it is located in will prove to be illusory at best.