The American Motors Corporation’s former headquarters at 14250 Plymouth Road is in limbo now. The property’s ownership will likely go to the Wayne County Land Bank before the end of the year. County officials have considered potential redevelopment options, but the solution they continue to return to is demolition.

The building didn’t always stand desolate, ravaged, and silent. It was designed by Amedeo Leoni and built in 1927 as a new factory and administration building for the Kelvinator Corporation, a successful appliance manufacturer in Detroit.

Men work on assembly line at Nash-Kelvinator company constructing refrigerators in Detroit, Michigan. Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Men work on assembly line at Nash-Kelvinator company constructing refrigerators in Detroit, Michigan.
Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

The company was founded in 1916 as the Electro-Automatic Refrigerating Company, but two months later, it was renamed the Kelvinator Corporation. The company’s namesake, Lord Kelvin, was the British physicist who discovered absolute zero and established the Kelvin temperature scale. one of the pioneers in automatic refrigeration technology.

The Kelvinator Corporation was one of the pioneers in automatic refrigeration technology. It started when Detroit inventor Nathaniel B. Wales pitched his idea for an electric refrigeration unit to General Motors executives Edmund J. Copeland and Arnold H. Goss. Two years later, Wales showed the men his first working model. From there, the company wast established and soon became an important appliance manufacturer.

Kelvinator newspaper advertisement from 1920. Public domain.
Kelvinator newspaper advertisement from 1920. Public domain.

In 1925, the Kelvinator Corporation produced the industry’s first self-contained electric home refrigerator. The company continued to grow as sales increased. It became obvious that the Kelvinator Corporation needed a new administration building.

In 1927, Amedeo Leoni was brought in to design the Plymouth Road Office Complex that would become the Kelvinator Corporation’s headquarters for the next few decades. The original building included an office complex, a three-story factory, and a power plant in the rear. In January 1937, Kelvinator merged with Nash Motors and became Nash-Kelvinator, still headquartered at the Plymouth Road site. To keep up with production, the company expanded the plant to 1.46 million square feet in 1940.

AMC Headquarters 1
Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

During World War II, Nash-Kelvinator got in on wartime manufacturing. The company was brought on as a contractor for the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. Final assembly work on helicopters for the Army was done at the Plymouth Road plant. Despite design changes that delayed production until 1944, 262 helicopters were assembled at the factory.

In 1954, Nash-Kelvinator merged with Hudson Motors to form the American Motors Corporation, remaining in the Plymouth Road plant. After the merger, most of the appliance manufacturing was moved to other factories, and Plymouth Road became a research and design center for cars.

Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

By 1960, AMC was selling about 486,000 cars a year. The corporation remained at the Plymouth Road headquarters until 1973. That year, it joined the exodus of companies leaving the city and moved to Southfield. Likely angered by AMC’s move to the suburbs, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young declared that the city wouldn’t buy AMC vehicles.

The Plymouth Road plant became AMC’s engineering headquarters until Chrysler bought the company in 1987. The buy-out came as a result of AMC’s massively popular Jeep line. Once Chrysler took over, the Plymouth Road factory became the Jeep and Truck Engineering Center. It saw designs like the Dodge Ram pickup and the Jeep Grand Cherokee become a reality.

Jeep Cherokee SJ. Photo by Christopher Ziemnowicz.
Jeep Cherokee SJ. Photo by Christopher Ziemnowicz.

Despite the facility’s prestige and history, the Plymouth Road plant wasn’t great for office work, so in 1996, Chrysler announced that it was moving to a new research and design center in auburn Hills. However, the company still kept a few workers at the Plymouth Road location.

When the company went bankrupt in 2007, the Plymouth Road location was put up for sale. The asking price was $10 million. Chrysler would hold onto the building for another three years before selling it to a private company for $2.3 million. By 2009, all of the remaining employees in the Plymouth Road plant had been moved to Chrysler Technology Center.

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The building eventually found its way to Terry Williams, a businessman with a long criminal history. Williams claimed he wanted to make the building a cancer treatment center for kids, but that never happened. Instead, Williams used the building for scrap metal, violating environmental law by disturbing asbestos-containing material when he did so.

The Plymouth building was seized by the courts in 2013, and in 2014, Williams was sentenced to two years and three months in prison.

Since 2013, the building has sat vacant, becoming a site for illegal activity and developing into an eyesore. A few remaining residents in the area according to a report seem to favor demolishing the building, and it appears that they might get their wish.

Should the American Motors Company headquarters, a building that saw the glory days of two iconic companies, not to mention the City of Detroit, be reduced to rubble?

If you think so, how could the city or someone repurpose this historic building? Comment below to let us know your thoughts on what the city should do with the building – whether it’s to save it our tear it down.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Tear it down. I grew up around the corner from there, Plymouth and Strathmoor, and it’s a pain to see. The whole neighborhood has gone in the wrong direction. Something is needed that is more pleasing to the eye but also helpful to the area(employment, services, etc.)

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