Take Off Toward Building

Albert Kahn, Inc., Architects produced the drawings for the Ford Long Beach plant in May, 1927. They included all of the modern features described for the Rouge, Plymouth, and other assembly plants. There is no known history of the drawing selection; however Kahn and Henry Ford worked so closely and on so many Ford factories that the selection was likely rather routine. Once approved, and if this job followed the normal procedure, it would have taken the course recently described by the Albert Kahn Associates, Inc. office:
"Once the project specifications were developed by our office-they, along with the complete set of drawings {architectural, structural, civil, mechanical, electrical) would constitute the bidding documents. Various general contractors would then bid on the project, using the specifications and drawings. The Clinton Construction company was selected as the general contractor [at Long Beach]."

The amount of the building contract was originally estimated at approximately $2,500,000, but Ford representatives claimed that before the building was completed, it cost about $5,000,000.

What delayed construction between 1927 and 1929 is not known. Certainly financing was not the roadblock, as Henry Ford paid cash, not with borrowed money but with his own. He believed in and had on hand a healthy cash reserve. His biographer Allen Nevins makes this abundantly clear throughout his account of the company's history.

On May 9, 1929, President of the company, Edsel Ford, finally made a firm statement about closing the Los Angeles plant and beginning construction on the one in Long Beach. Opening would be in the spring of 1930, and that did happen. Clinton Construction sub-contracted Raymond Concrete Pile Company of New York to do the foundation work, and E. Whitley arrived from a job in Florida on May 8 to take charge of the job. The Raymond Company would employ 40 men exclusive of the 200 men employed by Clinton, and the Raymond job would take four months to complete. The Raymond plan contemplated driving 2,400 piles, wooden piling ranging in length from 50 to 75 feet that would be driven below the water line. These would be capped with the Raymond concrete pile and joined with a special air-tight and water-tight joint. The two were then tied with a steel rod. A steel tube was then lowered to fit over the head of the wooden piling and into this concrete was poured making a continuous piling to the ground level. Below the water the wooden pilings would have a practically limitless life as no air reached them. The Raymond Company had put the foundation in for the River Rouge plant, but it was the first time this type of piling would be used on the Pacific Coast. A building permit was issued March 12, 1929, revealing that the total cost of the Type 1 Automobile Assembly Plant was to cost $403,800, a figure far below the original estimate. Final inspection was scheduled for April 1930.

Clinton Construction had Los Angeles offices, and Manager Huber there awarded Graham Bros. Inc. of Long Beach a subcontract to furnish crushed rock, gravel, and sand for the foundation.

The contract involved bringing more than 100,000 tons of rock from Catalina Island and sand from the Graham Lomita pits. It was the largest contract of its kind handled up to that time in the harbor district of Long Beach. In July when Henry Ford sent his first check to Clinton Construction for $242,073, a photograph of the check was printed in the newspaper. Work was proceeding rapidly; the pilings had been driven and in September most of the frame was in place. The structural steel was erected by McClelend-Marshall Company of California. The new plant also had a go-ahead on its natural gas supply when the City Council agreed to serve it with the City's gas, then in surplus of about 8 million cubic feet even in the winter months. Ford was willing to pay 19-1/2 cents per cubic foot even though Edison was only paying 13-1/2 cents.

Long Beach citizens had good reason to rejoice about the new factory. On October 29, 1929 the stock market crashed, and in 12 months six million men were walking the streets unemployed in America. But because of the solid merits of the new Model A, the Ford Company weathered the first phase of the depression well. Car output remained just about level with the previous year. After losing money in 1927 and 1928 due to the changeover in model, the company made $91,522,000 after taxes in 1929. Profits sank by $51,000,000 in 1930. but this compared favorably with other manufacturers. The worst was yet to come. In Long Beach, at the so-called "Depression Plant," work progressed toward an opening without interruption.