The American Motor Corporation (AMC) began as an appliance producer known as the Kelvinator Corporation. Founded in 1916 by Nathanial Wales, the company manufactured refrigerators and other household appliances. They released the first refrigerator in 1925. As the company’s operations grew, a new factory and headquarters complex was constructed on Plymouth Road. Architect Amendeo Leoni designed the new facilities, which included offices, a three-story factory and power plant.
Kelvinator merged with auto manufacturer Nash Motors in 1937 to become Nash-Kelvinator Corporation. After the merger, in 1940, the building complex was enlarged to 1.46 million square feet on a 57-acre plot of land. This happened at a time when the city was preparing for wartime production ahead of the US entrance into the Second World War.
After World War Two, smaller auto companies went out of business or merged with larger ones. Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motors merged to become American Motors Corporation in 1954. After the merger, appliance production was moved to other facilities as the Plymouth Road plant focused on research and design for AMC’s auto manufacturing. The appliance division was later sold in 1968. AMC manufactured cars including the Rambler, Ambassador, Metropolitan, AMX, Javelin, Hornet and Gremlin models.
The company left its headquarters on Plymouth Road in 1973-1975 for a new space in the suburbs and the Plymouth facility was converted into engineering offices. In 1987 Chrysler purchased AMC. They continued to utilize the buildings as engineering offices until 1996 when Chrysler began moving employees out of the old AMC headquarters to their new Auburn Hills complex. On June 5th 2009, following Chrysler’s bankruptcy, the last remaining employees were transferred out of the facility.
After leaving, the former headquarters was put up for sale. It sold in 2010 for 2.3 million dollars. The complex eventually found its way into the holdings of Terry Williams, a convicted felon with a long rap sheet. Although he claimed to have purchased the collection of buildings to convert them into a treatment center for children with autism, his true motive for acquiring the buildings seems like it was for a different purpose. Under Williams’s ownership, the buildings valuable metal construction materials were systematically removed for their scrap value, although, Williams has denied scrapping the structures. After Williams returned to prison in July 2013, the complex was seized by the courts for unpaid property taxes and has remained abandoned since.
I visited the property in April this year. Despite Terry Williams claim that he did not gut the buildings for their scrap value, I can assure you that the place has been thoroughly picked over. However, there must still be something worth salvaging, since we could hear scrappers tearing something apart on one of the upper floors in the building closest to Plymouth road. I had no desire to engage in a social exchange with the sort of animals that rely on illegal scrapping for a living so I steered clear. A lot of the complex is made up of abandoned cubical farm type office space, which is pretty homogeneous. The most interesting building on the property is the Deco style structure fronting Plymouth Road. In it, are what appear to be the executive offices and conference room, as well as the main lobby with grand marble stairs.
The once thriving area around the complex is now depressed and rundown. In addition, the buildings have been scrapped, vandalized and the site has been used for illegal dumping. The once proud AMC headquarters that anchored the neighborhood is no longer a desirable property. As such, the county has had a difficult time finding a buyer for the sprawling office center and its future is uncertain. There aren’t any definite plans for the property but demolition is being considered. Let’s hope they preserve the beautiful building fronting the complex.
For more photos of the former AMC Hq, check my AMC Flickr Album.
- “AMC Headquarters” DetroitUrbex.com
- “AMC’s Plymouth Road Headquarters Future in Doubt” Hemmings Daily
- “Old AMC Hq in Detroit Could Face Wrecking Ball” Detroit Free Press
How does a felon end up owning a $2.3 million building? The powers that be that allow this crap to happen need to be fined. I like to think that most buildings can be reused (I’m an architectural historian), but when they can’t and if no one is interested in the land, why can’t they find a construction co. who could use the building materials and make a deal on it – have them take salvage the materials. Pisses me off to see buildings that were once useful become drug dens and/or graffiti magnets – makes me ill.
Thanks for a great website though!
Some buildings are bought for scrap. Unfortunately, since much of a building’s scrap value can be plundered while leaving it standing, many are left as gutted shells. Such is the case of the AMC headquarters. There are usually tax incentives to reuse “brown sites” like abandoned buildings/lots but there still needs to be a market.
While working for an electrical contractor in that building for a few weeks around 1976, my foreman told me about a collection of antique, prototype and custom cars that were stored in the basement from the early 1900s to the recent time. On a lunch break, he and I took a personal tour down there of the collection. The latest car down there I recall was an AMC gremlin prototype, everything else now lost to memory, other than a collection of cars through time.