Four More Forgotten Motor City Landmarks

TernstedtAs we keep saying here at Mac’s Motor City Garage, there’s auto history on virtually every corner in the Motor City. Here are five more locations rich in industry lore—let’s take a quick tour. 

 

 

In its short time in existence, Mac’s Motor City Garage has amassed a pretty decent compendium of historic automotive landmarks in the Detroit area. For access to all these features in one easy click, we’ve created a new website category, Motor City Landmarks, which you can review at your leisure. (See the Departments listing on the main page.) In the meantime, here are four more noteworthy Motor City automotive landmarks.

 

Harroun Gar Wood SteelCaseWayne, Michigan, on Detroit’s western outskirts, has been home to a large Ford assembly plant since 1952, but the town’s automotive roots go back much further. In 1917, this handsome building on Michigan Ave. near Pershing Street was constructed to produce the Harroun automobile, engineered by 1911 Indianapolis 500 winner Ray Harroun. Difficulties meeting military contracts in World War I set the company back, reportedly, and the firm ceased operations in 1922.

The Gotfredson Body Corporation then took over the plant, where a young Gordon Buehrig, who later designed the Cord 810, worked as a draftsman. In 1927, the Graham Brothers obtained the facility for use as a Graham-Paige body plant, and just after World War II, auto startup Kaiser-Frazer briefly based some operations here. In 1947 the facility became a Gar Wood Industries truck plant, where the line workers included a young man named Malcolm Little—later known as Malcolm X. Today the former Harroun plant is home to several prosperous-looking enterprises.

 

Gran Torino House 238 Rhode IslandThe quintessential Hollywood movie about the Motor City in recent years might be Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino (2008). Filmed entirely in the Detroit area, its shooting locations included this tidy working-class house in Highland Park, which served as the home of Eastwood’s character, Walt Kowalski, a grizzled ex-auto worker.

The house, located on Rhode Island Street a few doors from Oakland Avenue, is mere yards from the site of the former Brush auto factory, which eventually became part of the Chrysler Highland Park complex, demolished in the late ’90s. The last time we drove past the Gran Torino house (August 2014) there was a for-sale sign in the front window.

 

Packard Marine Building 3-15First known as the Aviation Building, this Packard facility was constructed in 1928 across the Michigan Central Railroad tracks from the Packard main complex on East Grand Boulevard. Also known as the Marine Building, this structure (formally, Building 82) was home to many Packard engineering achievements, from experimental radials to PT boat engines. However, the famed Packard Merlin aircraft engines were assembled in another building at the north end of the complex. Divorced from the rest of the former Packard complex and in far better condition, the old Marine Building is apparently still in use as of 2015.

 

TernstedtSwedish immigrant Alvar K. Ternstedt developed one of the first successful automotive window regulators, and with the financial backing of the Fisher brothers, in 1917 he founded the Ternstedt Manufacturing Co, supplying regulators and other body hardware to Fisher Body Company. Unfortunately, Ternstedt passed away soon after, but his company was absorbed into Fisher Body, which eventually became a division of General Motors.

This old facility, at McGregor and Junction Streets in southwestern Detroit and known alternately as Ternstedt Plant 16 or Fisher Body 16, supplied components to the nearby Cadillac plant on Clark Street a few blocks away. The Cadillac Clark Street plant is long gone, but the former Ternstedt building has been put to the perfect use: It’s now a dedicated storage facility for collector cars. For more information, visit Classic Self Storage. 

 

5 thoughts on “Four More Forgotten Motor City Landmarks

  1. Hope the Ternstedt plant has a better fire plan than the ex-Briggs plant on the border of Hamtramck back in the 80’s. Got my ’63 Marauder out of there just a few weeks before it burned to the ground with hundreds of collector cars. The wood floors that kept it dry made it a firetrap. Mac McKellar lost a gorgeous Bonneville convert in there; many others went with it.

  2. Thanks, MCG. I’ve driven past the Packard Marine building many times and wondered what it was or if it was connected to Packard.

  3. My late father, born in 1905, worked for Graham-Paige in Wayne during the thirties “spitting tacks” which is how he described his job. A mouth full of tacks and a magnetized hammer were required to attach the fabric roof covering to the wood body tack surface. He claimed to have never swallowed any!

  4. I always thought it’d be cool to create a graphic that showed the locations and operations dates of the significant assembly plants on a Detroit map. “The complete graphic history of the car industry in Detroit”

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