Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Building Description Interior
The interior of the Ford factory building is utilitarian on all three floors, providing little more than weatherproof space, light, power, adequate floor loading capacity, basic sanitation amenities and access required to facilitate the early twentieth century manufacturing process. The interior is devoid of any ornamentation or decoration except for painted finishes. It is not, however devoid of character. The heavy timber construction is fully exposed in almost all portions of the building, clearly articulating the relationship between all of its components. The predominance and consistency of the simple yet powerfully elegant structural system throughout the building makes it the primary character-defining feature of the interior.
The utilitarian character is further reflected by the wall treatments which, with a few minor exceptions, is simple painted brick throughout the building. Floors are wood at the second and third floors, and concrete at the first floor. Water leakage and lack of heat over the years have resulted in the buckling of floor boards and the peeling of paint. Each floor of the building is divided into four compartments (rooms) for the purposes of fire safety by three brick masonry walls that extend from the first floor through the roof. Large arched openings in the center of these walls occur at each floor, and are protected by a pair of large tin-covered parallel horizontally-rolling doors which are important character defining elements. The southern one-fourth of the first floor, which is used for office space and for the sorting and packaging of uniforms, has been altered from its original appearance with drop ceilings, wall paneling, and floors covered in linoleum, tile, or carpeting. For the remainder of the first floor, the original heavy timber post and beam construction is visible. Each timber post, which supports timber beams running the length of the building, has a pair of timber braces tied to the beam at a 46-degree angle. Aside from this modernization, the decades of use, reuse and modifications to adapt to the needs of various occupants have been gentle, fairly sympathetic, and have done little to diminish the fundamental character of the interior.
The 1904 building originally had two stairwell/elevator combinations, one on the southwest side of the building and a second at the northwest corner. An original stairwell and elevator shaft still exist at the northwest corner of the building. The stairs, of timber construction, extend from the first floor to the third floors with guards, which are simply but attractively fashioned of beaded paneling and simple moldings. The extant elevator was built by the Haughton Elevator & Machine Company of Toledo, Ohio, with a nameplate indicating it was installed in 1926. The original equipment, including electrical switches, flywheel governor, and braking system, is in place and in excellent condition. The stairwell and elevator shaft on the southwest side of the building were relocated slightly north of their original location in 1926 to allow for clear access to the second and third stories of the adjacent reinforced concrete building through the "Studebaker bridge." A square brick penthouse on the roof of the three-story factory building houses the elevator machinery and equipment which was installed in 1926 and is identical to that found at the northwest corner of the 1904 building. The controls in the elevator car were replaced sometime in the 1950s. The second and third stories of the 1904 plant and the 1920 Studebaker building are connected through the "Studebaker bridge," which extends through the two southernmost bays of the Ford building. At the southernmost bay of the 1904 plant, approximately 2' north of the southwest corner of the building, there is a 12' wide steel industrial-type rolling door on both the second and third stories. On the second story, the middle section of the second bay has a solid steel wall 12' in width, which is recessed in 1' from the surrounding brick walls. This steel wall is fitted with a single standard steel door with a small vertical window. On the third story, the middle section of the second bay has a steel horizontally-rolling door 12' in width. The rolling door appears to date from 1920, when the Studebaker building was constructed. Finally, the northern portion of the second bay on both the second and third stories is taken up by the elevator that served the second and third stories of both buildings.
The 1904 Ford plant and the 1920 Studebaker building have separate electrical lines and water lines serving them. The Studebaker building has its own heating system, which may have served both buildings after the power house which originally supplied the 1904 factory with heat was demolished around 1937.
Other original features of the Ford building include the electrical panels, the fire suppression system on all three floors, including the sprinkler system, fire walls and fire doors, and some original signage on the third floor, including the "No Smoking" and "Exit" signs. The paint on the third floor, although peeling in places, appears to be the original paint applied in 1904. Photographs of the third floor taken in 1906 exactly match the appearance of the third floor today. The partitions enclosing the "Experimental Room" Henry Ford built in 1907 for designing the Model T Ford are no longer extant. One segment of a radiator from the original heating system has survived on the south end of the third floor. A walk-in vault, which held the Ford Motor Company's business records, remains in place in the southwest portion of the first floor. A second large vault, originally located directly above the first, on the second floor, was used to house engineering drawings. This vault was removed when the 1920 Studebaker building was erected. Two original iron fire escapes, located on the building's east facade, remain in place. The Piquette Avenue Plant embodies standard New England mill design using load-bearing exterior walls of brick, with square timber posts and beams supporting wooden floors. The Ford factory did not utilize "slow-burning construction" of the type commonly used in New England textile mills of the era.
The adjacent Studebaker building was called the "Detroit Service Building." Designed by Albert Kahn (Job Number 938), this is an L-shaped building 251' in length on Piquette Avenue and 195' on Brush Street. The Piquette Avenue wing is 75' wide and the Brush Street wing is 100' wide. It has ten bays on Piquette Avenue and eight bays on Brush Street. This four-story service and manufacturing building is of reinforced concrete and brick design. The concrete frame was exposed on the exterior with brick curtain walls supporting large expanses of industrial steel window sash frame. The interior has "mushroom" columns supporting the floors above. A two-story brick tower rises above the fourth story and supports a large water tank. None of the original fenestration has survived. The fourth story now has two pair of double-hung steel sash windows in each bay, the second and third stories have glass block windows, and the first story window space is filled with concrete block. These modifications, as well as a revised paint scheme, have altered the Studebaker building's overall external appearance. Alterations have also been made to the north and east facades of this addition that face the interior of the block. The courtyard facades have been largely clad with vertical metal sheathing, leaving narrow openings for ribbon windows across each wing. Three windows fill each of the courtyard facade bays, including a center fixed light and flanking horizontal slider windows. Remaining windows are either fixed lights or filled with glass block.