Ford Long Beach Assembly Plant Demolition

As demolition plans went forward In the 1990s, Leadership Long Beach, a class made of civic and business people and sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce, suggested that the Assembly building could support itself as a free port or as a tourist oriented warehouse-salesroom for Pacific Rim countries. Not only would this preserve the building, but also improve the city's quality of life by increasing its retail sales tax revenue. For several reasons these alternatives could not be considered. Earthquake damage in the 1980s although not severe, prevented public access. Further, the property is in the Port's industrial zone, the commercial-tourist zone being at Queens Way Bay. In addition the property is now three feet below mean low water level, and the protecting bulkhead leaks. To rectify this, the Port plans to raise the property 11-15 feet with dirt fill, an operation that requires building removal first. Hence, studies at the Port are at this writing going ahead to improve the site and to prepare it for use as a marine terminal.

As workers began to rip down the factory in September, 1990 it was once again in the news, and one journalist went out to see it and reported,
"The air is filled with the smell of burning metal as workers with acetylene torches cut apart the triangles of structural steel that once supported the roof. The wire- reinforced rooftop windows, which once let in light for building cars, are now encrusted with dirt and grime and destined for the scrapheap. Antiquated in design, they are more trouble to salvage then they're worth. In another section of the plant, workers in white coveralls and twin-filter breathing masks that give them the look of startled insects carefully lift off the panels of asbestos-contaminated roofing material that once provided shelter for the work below. Now the panels are just more hazardous waste that needs to be properly disposed."

The old plant was near the end of the line. Demolition was news, but when journalists in August of 1990 hunted for retirees to fill out their stories they were hard to find. Finally one was located who had worked there for a few months in the chaotic post World War II years when the plant had been closed down about half of the time due to sympathy strikes and parts shortages. He recalled a sweat shop, irregular work, and a bad experience. Once his remarks were published letters came in from more authentic retirees, long-term employees who were downright angry with his warped recollections and anxious to set the record straight. The following are excerpts taken from a letter written to the editor of the Los Angeles Times by George "Greg" Gregson:

"That plant really impressed me, a sailor stationed at the Naval Air Base on Terminal Island in 1942. It was then a U.S. Army supply depot with antiaircraft guns high on the roof by the big "Ford" sign. West of the plant was a fleet of barrage balloons protecting strategic L.A. Harbor."

"Discharged from the Navy after VJ Day, I drove down to the plant to apply for a job at Ford. I was put to work with old-timers of the maintenance crew, piecing together the conveyor system which they had dismantled to make way for the supply depot. Two months later, the system was filled with '46 Fords, which were all white to simplify production because the public was clamoring for cars."

"We agree...that in 46 many things were primitive by today's standards... production tooling left much for improvement, but we got the job done in a well-ventilated plant that may have been cold at times, but never with "hot lamps along the lines," as mentioned in [your] article. The next 14 years at Long Beach saw dramatic advancements in employee safety, working conditions, production tooling and facilities. This, coupled with improved product design and assembly methods, resulted in a top-quality product. [The informant] can save his lament that line workers could not afford to buy a car from the Long Beach plant. The fact is that hundreds of employees were proud to buy Fords that they had helped to build."

"I am proud with hundreds of others to have been a part of that great crew in those early days at "The Beach." In my 35 years at Ford we made many trips to the pilot plant in Dearborn, where I was often elected to write the report for our team. I have volunteered to write this final report with the concurrence of a number of that Long Beach crew and in memory of the men who made those early days so special."

Thus, demise in the material life of the plant did not mean a demise in the esteem for it that its workers would carry with them for years to come.