Ford Long Beach Assembly Plant Last Days
In January 1956, despite the loss of working days due to the flood, the Long Beach plant turned out 6,954 units, and in April the company recognized the plant for producing the millionth 1956 Ford, nationwide. A small ceremony commemorated the event with the plant manager, R.C.Armour imprinting a figure on the windshield of a two-door Fairlane Victoria. In November Long Beach had a new manager, Ralph W. Settles, when the papers reported a two-day closure due to an electrical explosion. Strictly speaking, it was not an explosion but an arcing in a cable. The Ford Division broke production records in 1956, and Vice-President McNamara said the plants were operating at near-maximum overtime to meet an unequalled demand for new 1957 Fords (made in 1956). Ford Long Beach was a successful part of a huge money making venture, and Manager Settles, described it as having the latest equipment and production methods, constantly updated.
At the peak in 1956 Long Beach Ford employed 1,700 men on a 53-hour week with a payroll topping $600,000 a month. In 1957 sales lagged, and the labor force was cut to 1,150 men. In February men were working a five-day 40 hour week. Meanwhile, ten of the then 16 assembly plants in the nation had gone on a four-day week. Layoffs were industry-wide. A nation-wide recession had taken hold. In January 1958 the four-day week came briefly to Long Beach. Matters improved in June due to a sales campaign, but on July 26, 1958, the announcement came. Ford would close Its Long Beach Plant and move all the employees to its Pico-Rivera Plant.
"Built 28 years ago, the Long Beach plant has become inadequate for modern automobile assembly operations," the company explained. "The consolidation is the latest step in the company's long-range program for improving its West Coast assembly operations." Officials stressed that the decision to consolidate had nothing to do with the city's subsidence problem or the repressurization program. Plant Manager Settles met with employees to inform them of the move. The 1,400 production workers went on overtime in November to meet new model demands and the plant closed March 20,1959. Pico Rivera where they would work was an industrial district, thus it was presumed most of the workers would continue to live in their present homes. Long Beach was a 22-minute freeway drive from Pico Rivera. There would be a 2-week layoff for 1,350 workers, and they were advised that they could draw checks from the California Department of Unemployment. Ford said that about 10 percent of its hourly labor force had been kept on at Long Beach to carry out the moving operation. Another 250 salaried employees were kept on the job. The newer plant was turning out Mercury cars exclusively, but with the expansion they would produce Fords as well.
Ford put the plant up for sale at a price of $1,250,000. This included the buildings and the 22.5 acre site. The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners immediately had a feasibility study made, but protection of the plant from the ocean made it too costly for them to consider. Too, the City was reluctant to take the property off the tax rolls. They quickly turned it down. Several private companies inquired about the property, but all had the same questions: could the property be kept dry, and could they get insurance to protect themselves and their clients. The Dallas and Mavis Forwarding Company of South Bend, Indiana bought the property January 28, 1960. Paul A. Mavis of Beverly Hills claimed his to be the third largest auto-transport firm in the nation. He said the firm's primary customer had been Chrysler Corp., but that the company intended to handle many imported cars as well. He announced plans to use the plant as a Western maintenance headquarters, make adjustments on imported cars, and possibly lease part of the building space.
Dallas-Mavis was the parent company of Robertson Truck-A-Ways, actual purchaser of the plant, recalled David M. Lee vice president of the forwarding company. "We started by cleaning out the place," he continued. "Ford took everything they wanted and could use, but left behind obsolete assembly line equipment. We were in the junk business for a while. As we moved foreign cars in, the junk went out." Lee reported that one new feature was a wood-panelled banquet room created in the factory bay. It would handle public and yacht club functions. A boat repair yard at the south end called Southwest Marina was complete with small craft chandlers. Southwest Marina used the Ford gantry cranes to lift small craft in and out of the water. A chemical firm leased one of the smaller buildings. Robertson Truck-A-Ways offered a package deal for car importers: surveyed incoming cars for damage, made repairs, and took them to dealers.
A handful of building permits (1929-1959) document at least some of the changes made to the interior of the Assembly building and to the Oil House. None of these really disturbed the integrity of the Kahn structure. That is, they all could have been removed and the original shell, production floor and space uncovered or revealed. Alterations to the main assembly building included partitions, drop ceilings, raised floorings, air conditioning, heating, cement work, and office creation. The old Oil House provided accommodations for the Red Witch Cafe designed In 1961 with seating for some 40 people. Plans were drawn in 1961 for 11th Naval District offices, but apparently never acted upon.
Ford sold its oil wells and the eastern acreage to Mobile Oil Corporation. In the 1970s the Port of Long Beach finally bought the Ford plant and continued the practice of leasing it. In the 1980s Nielsen-Beaumont Marine Inc. had a boat impound yard along the Cerritos Channel, storing small boats in the eastern side of the Assembly building. "Port Terminal" had an office facing on the west side of the Assembly building and stored cars in the southwestern portion of the building. Angus Biotech leased occupied Shed "D" (Building 3) till 1989.
The International Rectifier Corporation's, Rachelle Laboratories was the Port's largest lessee. It used most of the northeast portion of the Assembly building and built a floor to ceiling wall to mark off its lease line which ran irregularly around a use area not only inside the building but also outside at the north end of the plant. The inside space provided for offices, cold storage, and laboratories, while outside Rachelle developed tank farms, two powerhouses, built an extractor building, an auto storage building, used the old Ford engineering building (shed), and installed many smaller outdoor units. A small restaurant was located at the extreme southwest corner of the Assembly building. When the Red Witch Cafe closed is not known; however, we do know that at some time in the 1980s the Oil House was demolished.