Why do abandoned things intrigue us? Seriously, what’s the big deal? We really don’t know, but all we can say is that we love them. Call it an interest in history, an amusement with spooky stuff (seriously, these places would scare the daylights out of people), or just a divine curiosity for things forgotten, there is a very compelling impulse to “explore” places like this when we come across them.
There’s only one problem; they are so numerous—with so much distance between them all—you’d never get to them all. Plus, that's not to mention the danger; you really don’t want to be going inside these places. Sure, some of them have been renovated with renewed prestige as developers have turned sites into shopping malls, exhibition centers, and business complexes but many of them remain hollow and empty. When a business up and leaves a large facility like this, a lot gets left behind.
Most of the cool stuff has been pilfered and pillaged already, so there’s no reason to book a flight to Detroit. Still curious what they look like on the inside? Well, so were we, so we decided to go have a gander. (Not really, but we found some awesome pictures and it’s pretty much the next best thing.) Check out what some of these massive factories looked like in their heyday and what’s become of them today! (Don’t be scared, you can hold my hand if you need to.)
17 Lansing Assembly Plant
The Lansing assembly plant is about as iconic as they come. In the height of its production prowess, the towering structure proudly overlooked many blocks worth of city real estate. The cleanly manicured lawns adjacent to the actual brick and mortar construction painted a quintessential picture of the proud foundation that the automotive industry was laying for the prospering society. The GM Lansing plant distinctively held the longest production run on domestic soil upon the time of its closure in 2006.
Eventually, the proud image would fade into a massive eyesore that was just too large to justify. The amount of construction equipment required to level condemned sections of the behemoth structure is mind-boggling: over 300,000 pounds of backhoe are pictured here, making slow work of the massive complex.
16 The Hydroelectric Vision
The year was 1918, exactly 100 years ago. Henry Ford, with the presumptuous nature of a scoundrel, proceeded to buy an enormous, 180-acre section of Green Island, New York, and develop it as only Ford could. Inspired by his friend, Thomas Edison (yea, that Thomas Edison), Ford would venture into many different things; one of them was hydroelectric power. (Ford had the money to simply “try” something out as casually as you “try” out that $1.00 avocado upsell at the burger joint's drive-thru window.)
The plant today has been restored to operational status after a hiatus spent in a state of disrepair. All of the controls are computerized (and automated), but the plant retains its original 9,000-horsepower turbines. (“Built Ford Tough” enough for you?)
15 Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant
Opened in 1925, the Ford Twin Cities assembly plant would initiate the production of the Model T as its first order of business. The plant would go on to produce both cars and trucks for the Ford Motor Company, as well as armored vehicles for the war effort. (It sure is fortunate for us that our automotive revolution was as prolific as it was. Our industrial infrastructure would facilitate unparalleled production levels of military hardware in the turbulent 1940s.)
The plant wasn’t all a gleaming history of wartime heroism, however; it would see hard times during the 1080s; fuel prices, foreign imports, and recessions were shutting down other plants, left and right. Twin cities wouldn’t close until December 16, 2011, with a Ford Ranger finale.
14 Cleveland Tank And Bomber
The name is pretty self-explanatory. Built in 1942, the Cleveland assembly plant produced war machines. M41 Walker Bulldogs, M42 Dusters, M56 Scorpions, and M108 and M109 self-powered howitzers were among the tracked offerings sliding off the line. The plant was supposed to produce whole B-29s with the same tenacity, but it would never actually turn out an entire bomber, save for a few XP-75 prototypes that were produced in the stead of the Superfortress.
Today, the repurposed buildings fabricate memories and experiences—no longer do the assembly lines propel tank chassis and aircraft components across massive shop floors—instead the International Exhibition Center features over 1,000,000 square feet of floor space for trade shows and local venues.
13 Cleveland Tank And Bomber
The plant has seen a lot of action in its colorful history, but unlike the conversion factories that once produced automobiles and parts, Cleveland Tank was purpose-built to win a war. As previously stated, they never produced an active duty bomber, but they sure did make a lot of parts for them. The massive horizontal stabilizers of the iconic Superfortress sit on shop stands next to a production manager. (These are just the little wings on the tail!)
Today, the asbestos has been cleaned (or concealed), and the International Exhibition Center proudly hosts some of the biggest trade shows you can attend.
12 Ford Dagenham Assembly Plant
The Ford Dagenham assembly plant was constructed to replace the aging Trafford Park plant in 1931. It was a massive plant that would eventually build almost 11 million cars and over 37 million engines throughout its steadfast history. The massive complex was located in marshlands adjacent to deep water where it could accept large deliveries by ship. To adequately support the towering structure, 22,000 truckloads of concrete were required to bolster the foundation over the soft marsh.
Vehicle production ended in 2002, but the site continues to pump out engines as if they are going out of style. It currently maintains the capacity to slam 1.4 million engines into tangibility on an annual basis, as if we really need that many EcoBoosts blowing spark plugs into our fender wells.
11 Richmond Ford Assembly Plant
Ford was none for extravagancies, but you’d hardly know that by looking at the catalog of buildings within his empire. The Richmond plant was constructed to help meet production needs until its wartime conversion to a tank factory ceased automobile production. The introduction of Ford’s assembly plant to the Richmond area would make the burgeoning tycoon the third-largest employer in the region—right behind Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and the Santa Fe Railroad.
The building was spared from destruction thanks to the legendary design work of Albert Kahn, who was known for his “sky-lit” factory designs. A 1989 quake wasn’t even enough to take it down, and after extensive renovations to the damaged building, the “Craneway” Conference Center (as it’s now known) hosts venues as well as accommodating industrial tenants.
10 Detroit Packard Plant
The proud Packard plant was one of Detroit’s most prominent production plants when it was constructed in 1903. Albert Kahn, again, was the architectural mastermind behind the buildings fascinating assets, like the overhead walkway between two towering, five-story buildings. At the time of its construction, the 35-acre plant featured 3.5 million square feet of floor space. It would also eventually produce the iconic P-51 Mustang engines during wartime.
However, as all good things must come to an end, Packard lost their grip when they aimed their line at middle-class buyers. Straying from the luxury market lost them footing that the middle-class market just could, and would, not support. Although the eponymous Packard model was to be their last vehicle in 1958, the Detroit plant would be closed a year prior, left to vandals, transients, and cults (seriously).
9 Detroit Packard Plant
The complex is astoundingly massive. It stretches for blocks on end, and when immersed within the dense maze of buildings, you feel as if you’re in an alternate reality. The sheer size of the complex can almost completely drown out all audible indications of any surrounding life, save for nature. The factory is so big, even the rooftops seem to stretch continuously into the horizon.
Almost any artifact and treasure that was once left behind has been pilfered, looted, and pried from the walls. Rampant fires roar “unexplainably” through hollow corridors of the vacant property and evidence of vandalism is found everywhere. Someone here thought it would be cute to see what happens to a dump truck after a three-story drop.
8 Detroit Packard Plant
Being the most modern production plant in the world doesn’t come easy. As the epitome of technological advancement, the Detroit Packard factory had skilled workers in over eighty trades. On the last day of production, crews jovially started destroying the assembly line in an act of triumph; they had outlived the factory. Sure, nobody had jobs anymore, but the level of satisfaction that must come from destroying that thing you've had to slave away on everyday must have felt extremely liberating.
The building was used as storage by other businesses up until the late-90s, which was also the same time huge underground raves were being thrown. The Packard plant is one of the few abandoned factories having more fun in retirement than it ever did during its production days.
7 Fisher Body Works Water Tower
Built by the Fisher brothers in 1908, Fisher Body Works was a General Motors subsidiary all the way up until 1984, where it would transfer assets to form other GM divisions. (If you look on the sill plate of your old Chevy, you may just see the Fisher Body Works logo stamped into the aluminum.
The Fisher Body Works of today is but a fleeting whisper of the proud name that once meant something to the local economy. The eerie remains are all that’s left after a 1984 shutdown. Other tenants have wafted in and out, but most of the people you’ll find there today are people you don’t want to run into when exploring millions of square feet of abandonment.
6 Fisher Body Works
By 1917, General Motors had reallocated most of its bodywork to the Fisher plant in 1917. It would be only two years later that they would effectively buy into a controlling interest in the Fisher company and operate it as their own. Although the “Body by Fisher” moniker was to continue for many decades, the two companies were effectively "merged" into one.
In the late 1930s, violent strikes permeated Fisher and General Motors plants nationwide. Work ground to a screeching halt as no one was left to man the machines. They would retool during wartime to produce aircraft components, tanks, and anti-aircraft guns for the military, as many high-capacity factories did.
5 Ford San Jose Assembly Plant
The Richmond assembly plant was replaced by the San Jose plant, built in 1955. San Jose was to become Ford’s primary plant in the region, producing Falcons, Mavericks, Mustangs, Fairlanes, Torinos, Pintos, and Escorts, to name a few. The plant would also produce F-Series trucks and even the Edsel.
Indeed, San Jose was a thriving hub of activity for the Ford Motor Company; it seemed like almost everything was happening there. When imports from Japan started to hamper sales, Ford closed the plant in 1983. It would later reopen as the Great Mall of the Bay Area. The term “automation” was actually originated from San Jose’s interlinked assembly line.
4 Boeing Plant 2
In the absence of clever nomenclature, Boeing designated their new King County (Washington) facility simply as Plant 2. The equally dull sounding “Plant 1” was located right up the river. As the transition from wood-framed, fabric wrapped aircraft yielded to the infinitely sturdier, semi-monocoque designs of the new age, Plant 1 became obsolete. Boeing, like a protective parent, built an entire “fake neighborhood” over the new B-17 Flying Fortress plant to disguise it from enemy air attacks.
The houses were half-height; just enough to fool you from the air. (You can even see the burlap ground simulating a front yard.) The neighborhood was taken down a year after the war, and eventually, the facility fell into a state of decay after a series of earthquakes rocked the poorly maintained buildings beyond feasible repair. Demolition started in 2010, but satellite buildings remain to this day.
3 Boeing Renton Plant
The Renton, Washington, plant currently produces Boeing’s 737 (Next Gen and MAX) airliners. Nearly 40 Boeings roll out of the assembly line on a monthly basis in a mass-production symphony that would make Henry Ford feel the need to put a suspension lift on his Model T. If you were to line up the total number of 737s Renton pumps out in a year’s time, the string of Boeing heavy metal would extend over 11 miles long.
Renton produced thousands of B-29 Superfortresses, which would ultimately be the first aircraft to deliver a nuclear payload. Although Renton today focuses on contemporary airliner production, don’t be surprised to find a stray B-29 Superfortress tucked away in a well-protected “exclusion” zone. (That means no-touchy!)
2 Willow Run Assembly Plant
There’s so much decrepit history behind these old plants. Much of the uplifting “you can overcome” folklore (along with all the anecdotes) we were raised on as children came from these adverse working environments while a world struggled to define humanity. One such influential figure you’ve definitely heard of, Rosie the Riveter, worked at the Willow Run plant.
Actually, it was a woman named Rose Will Monroe who would be most closely associated with the cultural icon. Despite moves to demo the sight, activists have managed to preserve part of the facility by virtue of its historic significance. Cargo and general aviation flights frequent the active portion of the airfield while GM leases a giant warehouse for its parts distribution.
1 Flat Rock Assembly Plant
Formally known as the Michigan Casting Center, Ford’s Flat Rock assembly plant holds several distinctive designations; it was, at one time, the most technologically advanced manufacturing plant in the world; it was one of Ford’s largest investments and they built literally tons of Mustangs (over 10 million). They just dumped $700 million into plant expansions, and Ford plans to build hybrid F-150s and Mustangs there by 2020 (for shame, Ford).
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Flat Rock plant can only be appreciated from a post-apocalyptic, robot-takeover, futurist point of view: Flat Rock was the location where Robert Williams became the first known human to lose his life to a robot when an industrial arm and his body tried to occupy the same space together back in 1979.
Sources: Seattle Times, Scandinavian Traveler, Toledo Blade, U.S.A Today, History, The Ranger Station, City Lab, Cleveland Municipal, Hemming’s, and Abandoned Spaces.