Ford Long Beach Assembly Plant The Development Period: Depression Years
As we know, the subject plant was conceived during the expansive mid 1920s. The fact that there was no slow-down immediately after the Depression set in 1929 can be attributed to Henry Ford's public spirited approach. He believed that the first acts required by the crash were plant-expansion and price-cutting. Early in 1930 he announced a $25 million plan of plant construction. He also redesigned the Model A adding much stainless steel and a roomier interior. This temporarily successful auto would be Long Beach's first car. Expansion came to the new plant on July 31, 1930 with the construction of a new pressed steel building, a $12,000 addition to the main assembly building. It was the only pressed steel plant in the United States outside of the parent factory in the East. Pressed steel meant the making of fenders, hoods and other sheet metal parts and required some of the most expensive machinery of mass automobile production. Long Beach would be the source of supply for all Ford branches on the Pacific Coast.
Albert Kahn redrew the 1927 plans for an oil house in November, 1930, and it too was added (Oil House). It was a separate small building at the southeast comer of the dock facing on the Cerritos Channel.
Still expanding, in 1931 Ford bought 33.33 additional acres east of the Long Beach property from the Union Pacific Railway Company. The new land extended north from Cerritos Channel nearly to the Dominguez viaduct. It was diked and filled and made ready for future plant buildings. This brought the total acreage up to 73.204. The only reduction of acreage ever was in 1947 when the government purchased .742 acres when they built the Terminal Island Freeway. In March, 1931, with the Model A not doing well against Chevrolet and Plymouth competition, Ford brought out the V-8 and suffered grave losses in getting it into production. Meanwhile Long Beach turned out a fleet of trucks for use at the construction site of Boulder Dam (photo below). The depression deepened, and only 8 of Ford's 35 assembly plants were in operation in 1933. Long Beach closed in December 1932 and remained inactive until February, 1935. On March 10, 1933 Long Beach was struck by a sizeable earthquake. It was, of course, already closed down. Although we have few records of damage done to the plant (see photo below), we do know that a building permit was taken out on March 28, 1933 to "alter the industrial site." The work cost $3,000 and could have been devoted to earthquake repair or to altering the Pressed Steel building. The pressed steel operation had ended with the close down. The building was converted to a cafeteria at the northeast corner, and to storage for fenders and for replaceable equipment. Outside the cafeteria was a terrace area where the employees could lunch as well.
In spite of the streamlined V-8, Ford went into a third year of losses, but in 1934 financial recovery began with modest profits. In November Ford announced he would spend amply on advertising and expansion. He did, notably at the Rouge. Yet, in 1936 he had only 22.44 percent of the passenger car market, a new low for Ford. Ford continued to innovate, and in 1936 introduced the road test track at the Rouge, then at his factories including Long Beach. This lay north of the northeast end of the assembly building. It was a 556-foot long track approached by the new cars as they exited the assembly line and building. This is where the cars would be tested until a modern roadability test building was added to the north end of the assembly building in 1950. To the west of the old road test track lay the employees parking lot which held over 700 cars.
After the slump in the economy in 1938, Ford profits steadily increased. The plant had $200,000 worth of dock repairs and new dock facilities completed by the White and Squires, Engineers and the Tavares Construction Company. The latter had a contract on the dock piling, and they commenced work in January, 1939. Subsidence was not a major problem in 1939, but it had begun, amounting to an average of about a half an inch a year.
In Long Beach City the Depression had been weathered relatively well. The city grew slightly, by 15.7 percent, largely due to the continued oil production, being the home port to the Pacific Fleet, and the steady growth of the local manufacturing Industries. The Pacific Fleet, which began with 18,000 naval personnel and their families, grew to 50,000 officers and men and 43 vessels by 1938. Even more prosperity came with the discovery and exploitation of the Wilmington Oil Field. In 1936 a singular General Petroleum derrick stood west of the plant well off the company property. In the distance the Signal Hill field came into view. Soon after this time wells appeared on the Ford property, and 1939 aerial photographs of the Ford Plant took in a forest of derricks. Thirty one derricks were up in 1940, and 55 in May 1952. A 1940 drawing locates the wells, largely on the newer eastern acreage and north of the assembly plant with one just east of the pressed steel building between the railroad tracks.
After the outbreak of World War II the United States government leased the entire Long Beach Ford plant and took possession on April 30, 1942. At that time the offices were moved to Los Angeles and all assembly and service stock operations were discontinued. The service stock section (essentially spare parts) was moved to the Richmond, California branch. During the war years the plant was used by the Army as a supply depot. The Army placed anti-aircraft guns on the roof next to the "Ford" sign, and west of the plant was a fleet of barrage balloons designed to protect the Los Angeles Harbor. Many of the Ford old timers remained at the plant and worked for the Army while others easily found work at the local shipyards and other defense plants. Thus, another interruption kept the plant from reaching its potential, and it would still have to overcome post-war shortages and labor adjustments before it would reach its high water mark of development.
OFFICE BUILDING AND ASSEMBLY BUILDING, WEST SIDE, SHOWING TRUCKS AND TRAILORS LOADED WITH NEW TRUCKS DISPLAYING SIGNS 'MORE FORDS FOR HOOVER DAM'
PRESSED STEEL AND WAREHOUSE BUILDINGS, 1ST FLOOR, SHOWING DAMAGE TO FREIGHT ELEVATOR SHAFT FROM EARTHQUAKE
LUNCH ROOM ALONGSIDE SUNKEN RAIL SPUR, NORTH END OF PLANT. VIEW TO NORTH-NORTHEAST.