Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Building Description Exterior
The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant is located approximately three miles north of the Detroit River in a section of the City of Detroit just east of Woodward Avenue between the Edsel Ford Expressway (Interstate 94) on the south and East Grand Boulevard on the north, known as Milwaukee Junction. The district takes its name from the fact that three railroads interconnect in this area-the Detroit & Milwaukee, the Grand Trunk Western, and the Michigan Central. Streetcar lines extended into this area from downtown on nearby Woodward Avenue, touching off some early residential growth in the 1890s. The construction of the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in 1904 marked the beginning of a wave of construction of automobile factories in this district. Many industrial buildings situated along these rail lines, both east and west of Woodward Avenue, still remain today, and are included in the New Amsterdam Historic District (listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001) and the Piquette Avenue Industrial Historic District (listed on the National Register in 2004).
The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant is situated at the northwest corner of Piquette and Beaubien. The original three-story building measures 388' by 56', with a 20' ceiling on the first story and 16' ceilings on the second and third stories. Its exterior envelope consists of load bearing brick masonry walls constructed of common brick, punctuated with a regular pattern of window openings on all sides. The south (Piquette Avenue) elevation is the front, and exhibits Italianate influences with a tripartite arrangement of forms with a pediment over the center. The slightly sloping roof is hidden by the coping and parapet wall in the front; thus, it is not visible from the street. Structurally, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant is in excellent condition, with its defining features, such as the brick walls, window arrangements, wood columns, wood floors, and rear elevator, all intact.
The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant was designed with some modest architectural pretensions, although it was built for utility. Its narrow front facade facing Piquette Avenue contains three bays, the center one projecting forward slightly. Detailing is in the brick and is concentrated around the parapet level in the form of a stepped corbel table. A stepped brick belt course separates the first and second stories; a shallow pediment, also outlined in stepped brick, projects from the center of the front facade. The same pattern of stepped brickwork is carried beneath the eaves along the east and north side elevations of the building. A projecting brick water table also continues around the sides at ground level. The west side of the building, facing the yard, is simplified, with the parapet rustication and corbeled band omitted. On the east side, Beaubien slopes down to the north, thus exposing the foundation wall, which is parged. Walls are capped with a vitreous clay tile coping, except at the south pediment, which is capped with an ogee-molded limestone coping. The brick is unpainted, except at the front facade, which is painted white. A series of Ford Motor Company outbuildings located west of the three-story brick factory, including a brick powerhouse (1904) and additional buildings erected in 1907-1908, are no longer extant.
On the front (south) facade, a recessed garage door type entrance now occupies the central bay of the first story. Originally, the entrance was composed of a single entrance door with a transom above, flanked by sidelights resting on the water table. Above this is still the original fan light opening, now filled in, with its exaggerated keystone centered in its arch. A grouping of three elongated windows occupies the central bay of the second floor; a large arched opening with a tripartite window occupies the central bay on the third story. This fenestration pattern is repeated on all three stories of the long side elevations of the building.
Window design and arrangement present a unified, horizontally banded visual organization to the building. There are approximately 355 wood double hung windows on the building, typically with divided lights and muntins in the upper and lower sashes. Masonry window openings are stacked in three story high groupings in bays that repeat along the length of the building, with minor variations at the end bays. Masonry opening heads on the first floor are segmentally arched on the exterior and flat (supported with a steel lintel) on the interior. Each opening contains one window. Windows are paired - two in each bay - each with a separate limestone sill. Second and third floor windows are set into an arched, recessed two-story bay, set four inches from the building face. Second floor window openings have flat heads with steel lintels, with each opening containing one window, and are paired in each bay with a masonry pier between them. Both windows in the pair share a limestone sill. The third floor windows are tripartite within a single arched masonry opening spanning the entire bay. These windows share a limestone sill. Corner bays differ from the typical bays in that they are not recessed on the first and second floors. The third floor windows are two separate arched windows instead of the typical tripartite arrangement, and the second and third floor windows do not share a sill. Windows are primarily six-over-six double hung sash; the first floor windows have three-light transoms above.
The second and third stories of the Ford Piquette Plant (along the southernmost three bays of the west elevation) are connected with the adjacent Studebaker Detroit Service Building (built in 1920) by the "Studebaker bridge." This building is four stories tall and its "bridge" provides a drive-through at ground level between the two buildings, providing access to the large court within between and behind the two buildings. Although the bridge once provided access between the two buildings at the second and third floors, these opening (between now separately-owned buildings) were sealed many years ago.
Several original door openings within the Ford building have been modified to accommodate changing use patterns, mainly for wider, contemporary overhead doors. Typically, the arched openings above the doors have been filled in with brick. The location of almost all of the original windows and door openings are unchanged. A few windows have been bricked up.
At the end of the production process, most Ford automobiles were shipped by rail to Ford's dealers and distributors. A railroad spur extended from the main line to the rear of the plant, where cars would be loaded from a covered loading dock onto railroad freight cars. When Ford occupied the plant, the railroad lines were situated at street grade, so the loading dock was situated on the first floor at the rear of the building. In 1911, the railroad spur line extending from the main railroad line to the Piquette Plant was elevated above street grade, so the loading dock was moved to the second floor level. None of the 1904 loading dock is extant. A square brick penthouse located on the roof at the northwest corner of the building houses the mechanical equipment for the elevator located there and originally served as the structural base for a 25,000 gallon wooden water tank designed to provide water to the sprinkler system. The wooden water tank was removed some time ago.
To the immediate north of the 1904 building is a large elevated platform supported by steel I-beams. When added in 1911, this was probably an open steel framework supporting a single railroad spur (ties and rails) and a wooden loading "shed" adjoining the 1904 factory, but is now enclosed on all sides, with railroad ties, rails, and loading shed entirely removed, and is covered with an asphalt roof. On the north and west sides, the space beneath the elevated platform surface is enclosed with cinder block walls. At the northwest corner of the 1904 factory, part of the space under the railroad spur line has been converted into a pair of garages. The date(s) of these alterations are not known. Along the Beaubien Street (east) side of this elevated platform there is a large wall, 56' long, consisting of three distinct segments. The first (lowest) segment is a reinforced concrete foundation, rising 6' above the sidewalk at its southern end, next to the brick factory building, but then gradually reached 7'- 6" in height at its northern end. The second (middle) segment, consisting of common bond brick, is 6' in height, and the third (upper) segment, consisting of cinder block construction, is 10' in height, making the loading dock deck at least 22' above the level of the sidewalk on Beaubien. None of these walls are load-bearing. The elevated platform is 56' wide at Beaubien, but then tapers to approximately 35' in width at the northwest corner of the brick factory building and then tapers even more to a width of approximately 20' farther west. This platform abuts the 1904 brick factory, but is not structurally connected to it with bolts, braces, or brackets.
The elevating of the original loading shed in 1911 to the second floor level also changed some of the fenestration on the north facade of the 1904 building. The third floor fenestration is unchanged and is identical to that of the third floor on the south facade. On the second floor, however, several changes were made to accommodate the relocation of the loading dock. A pair of windows at the east end of the facade are original, as is a single window located in the western third of the facade. Two new door openings have replaced original windows. In the middle of the second floor facade, there is a timber-framed solid wooden door consisting of two equal segments that swing inward. On the west end of the second floor, there is a single wooden door, solid on the bottom, but with twelve window panes (6 over 6) on the top, which swings outward and provides access to the elevator located at the northwest corner of the building.