Sunday, June 3, 2012

Saying Good-bye to the Twin Cities Ford Plant

Today was the 33rd Annual All Ford Picnic and No-Trophy Show at the Twin Cities Ford Assembly Plant.    It was also the 5th (and final) Annual "Last Picnic at the Twin Cities Ford Assembly Plant." This one really will be the last, as the plant is slated for demolition later this summer, and things seemed a bit lonely and forlorn when I got there later in the afternoon.
 
I’ve never really looked at the plant, never spent any time in or around it; but my brother – a Ford collector, professional auto writer, and amateur historian – loves this place and is eager to show me around and explain what makes this place special.

The buildings that exist today include the original 1925 assembly hall (as expanded in 1968), the 1984 paint shop, and a high-tech (tax-payer provided) 1999 training center. (All of which, apparently, will be demolished.)

From the ground, it’s a little hard to get a sense of how it all fits together, except to realize it is a big place.

It’s believed that the assembly hall was designed by Albert Kahn, the master industrial architect, a man noted for consolidating assembly lines in one structure and making sure there was plenty of natural light. The original one-story building had more than 1 million square feet. Clearly, Ford’s assembly plant was designed for functionality, but visual impact seems to have been important as well.

 photo from Hemmings

 photo from Nokohaha

While the original building was impressive in its day, the changes made over time - including covering the huge windows that lit the assembly hall and encasing much of the original assembly hall in a drab concrete wall facing the river (all this after Henry Ford had the original building design rotated 90 degrees to take advantage of the sweeping river views) have diminished its appeal. 

 What is still visible of the original building, with windows, is largely obscured by trees.
 One unique remnant of the original building remains, moved from some portion of the original building to the end of the assembly hall addition. My brother tells me that the plans are to once again salvage it (probably adding it to the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society). It appears this is the only part of the plant likely to survive this summer’s final demolition.
 I really wish we could go inside today – I’d like to see the assembly line. But, of course, I most want to see the assembly line as it once existed, bathed in sunlight. I do think I’ve seen an assembly line, in operation, when we were visiting Dearborn, Michigan. But I was a kid and not really interested in cars (this was a stop on the itinerary for my dad and brother), so I don’t remember it. I am pretty sure though that it wasn’t an open airy space with views of the Mississippi River like the original line here would have had!

The interior of these structures aren’t the only things off limits today. Ford was a big believer in vertical integration – in controlling all aspects of the production process – and that is evident at the Twin Cities facility. The Ford Dam on the river below the plan provided power. Likewise, a barge landing along the river below the plant allowed vehicles to be shipped by barge . . . just in case the rail line that came directly into the plant wasn’t sufficient. Down the road there are beautifully built apartments constructed to house Ford’s workers, ensuring that workers were not distracted by housing concerns – or anything else Ford could control.

In a similar effort to control every part of the production process, the bluff on which the plant was located could be mined for the silica needed in the production of window glass. While the glass plant ceased production at the end of the 50s and was subsequently demolished, the mining tunnels still remain (along with the tunnels used to move finished product to the riverbank for barge transport)

 This really does seem to be the end of an era.

 Twin Cities Assembly Plant Timeline 

I suspect that whatever the city develops on this site will never accrue the history, relevance, or respect of this facility.

Closing note: Ford’s original Twin Cities plant was housed in a recently renovated ten-story building that overlooks Target Field in Minneapolis.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing. Wonderful job,great pictures!

    ReplyDelete

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