The World’s Largest Abandoned Site, Packard Automotive Plant Detroit

The World’s Largest Abandoned Site, Packard Automotive Plant Detroit – Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Opened in 1903, the Packard Automotive Plant was once the ultimate symbol of Detroit’s American dream. The state-of-the-art facility was considered the most modern of it’s kind and produced luxury Packard cars and even manufactured aircraft engines for the US military during WWII. Over 30,000 people, skilled craftsmen from 80 different trades, came to work here every day. Sprawled across an impressive 40 acres (0.142 square kilometers), the various buildings span 3,500,000 square feet (325,000 square meters).

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The Demise Of The Packard Automotive Plant

Sadly, the Packard Motor company could not keep up with their competition and were forced to close their doors in 1958. Long afterwards, buildings continued to be used by various companies until the early 2000’s. 

Recommended reading: These pieces, How to Destroy an American Landmark and The Packard Automotive Plant is the largest abandoned industrial complex in the world.

Since that time, the entire plant has remained empty and unused, making it the largest abandoned building in the entire world and just another addition to Detroit’s 78,000 abandoned buildings.

The Packard Automotive Plant Today

The Packard Automotive Plant is now a home for vagrants, a canvas for graffiti artists and a playground for paintball enthusiasts and ardent urban explorers. It’s even a treasure trove for collectors and other do-it-yourself types who come there to take unused materials like scrap metal. A local artist even stole a large door which was used as part of a community art installation called the Heidelberg Project.

The place is regularly set on fire, further contributing to the apocalyptic setting which attracts filmmakers from all over – part of Transformers 3 was filmed here.

Inside The Packard Automotive Plant 

After exploring the Abundant Life Christian Church, I was excited to get a chance to see the Packard Automotive Plant for myself and have the opportunity to photograph this incredibly extraordinary setting.

I particularly loved the above shot, with the light streaming through the aqua hued windows. Continuing through the massive complex, it was overwhelming to see how large the Packard Automotive Plant really was with our own eyes.

The Future Of The Packard Automotive Plant

The building which remains unowned is more or less structurally sound in places. However, it remains a burden to the now bankrupt city of Detroit. Local officials would either like to see the buildings razed to the ground or restored to their former glory. A Chicago businessman who was set to buy the plant grounds in 2013, promised a bold project that would see the site revitalized. However, his attempt fell through …

Just as when first visited this site in 2013 and even as we updated this post in 2020, the site remains abandoned. While used every now and again for filming – Amazon’s The Grand Tour recorded an episode there last year, the location is still rife with issues. At one point, vandals placed signs in the windows of the E. Grand Boulevard bridge that read “Arbeit macht frei” – a Nazi expression displayed in WWII concentration camps that translates to “Work shall set you free”. Thankfully, generous volunteers promptly removed the racist signage. Then in 2019, that same vandalized bridge completely collapsed.

While we wait to see what may happen with the place, the plant continues to sit as a painful and obvious reminder of the city that went once was.

Have you visited abandoned sites like the Packard Automotive Plant? Tell us about in the comments below.  

Location

Good to Know

1) The site is in a remote area of the city. As far as I know, the public transit system in Detroit is pretty dismal so it’s best to arrive by car.

2) Don’t come alone as some people live in the facility and might not be happy with your presence. My friend and I came across them as we explored, so we promptly left in order to not disturb them. 

3) Bring a flashlight as parts of the building are dark. Use your torch to light the way and detect dangerous holes in the floor or potentially unsafe surfaces.

4) As so many tourists come to visit this site, local thieves target them accordingly. Lock your car doors and don’t leave any valuables (like expensive camera equipment) inside the car at all. A better idea is have someone remain in the car at all times.

5) Find a hotel for your time in Detroit.

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6) Book a tour when you’re in Detroit.

7) For more about what to see and do in Detroit, read these posts or check my Detroit archive.

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Founder of cherylhoward.com. Canadian in Berlin. Frequent traveller now at 43 countries and counting.

31 Comments

  1. Interesting story. I loved the inclusion of the documentary and am amazed by his life in this largely abandoned territory. I have to admit that what I keep wondering is what the environmental impact of an abandoned car factory would be.

  2. Thanks Mary! It was interesting to learn his story after having been in the building. I certainly wonder about the environmental impact as well. It certainly cannot be good.

    I’ve since heard someone has put in a bid on the site. Let’s hope they do something good now!

  3. It does make for some great photos! Glad you got out of there safely though. I imagine the vagrants are none to happy with tourists entering their space. It’s a real shame what has happened to Detroit.

  4. Thanks and me too! It is a shame as to what’s happening to Detroit but I think there’s some good things happening there which will hopefully shift things in a better direction.

  5. So eerie, your photos really bring the story to life. Our son lives in Michigan and we’ve had ample chances to visit Detroit, but have always detoured around it. Reading some of your stories have piqued my interest. I really hope this once great city can get back on its feet again. -Veronica

  6. Thanks! It was such an interesting place to visit.

    Hope you can get around to seeing more of Detroit. There’s plenty of good things to be had in Motor City. 🙂

  7. I can’t imagine what it must be like in Detroit right now, and this abandoned auto plant is a pretty harsh look at what the city has become. Not sure I’d want to visit, but it’s certainly interesting!

  8. Ali – It’s depressing there but also exciting somehow! There’s so many cool things happening like the community art projects, urban farms etc. that offer some hope.

  9. Such evocative pictures of a burned out site… We wouldn’t want to be living in Detroit right now… Probably not even tourism can save the site?? (Not sure Detroit is high on many people’s vacation list – “Honey, wanna go to New York or Detroit?”)

  10. The site was just bought yesterday for $6,000,000 at auction. So who knows what’s next for the factory!?

    Detroit actually should be high on people’s vacation list – which is one of the reasons I went there in the first place. I want to help change that in some small part! I’ve done some other articles on the city about some of the awesome things to see and have more in store about just why people should go there. 🙂

  11. Abandoned buildings have so much atmosphere! Now that it’s been bought I wonder what will happen to it… and where Allan will end up…

    When you lived in Berlin did you go to Teufelsberg? Reading this reminded me of when I tried to get in but was escorted back out of the property. However, he didn’t mind me re-entering after I paid an ‘admission fee’!

  12. Hi Shing! The future’s up in the air! The building was bought at auction but the winning bidder failed to make payment and now the second highest bidder is working with them to make a purpose. We have to wait and see for what happens next!

    I never went to Teufelsberg but I want to when I visit there next. 🙂

  13. Very true. I’m a bit of a ruin porn enthusiast so Detroit was like heaven for me from that perspective. However, the setting was also sad and surreal knowing how tough it must be for some that live there.

    I only hope the space will be turned into something to benefit the community and that Detroit will also reclaim itself as a great city once again. There’s some pretty cool stuff happening there so hopefully that means there’s change coming.

  14. I have been intrigued by Detroit ever since I saw the Detroit Disassembled photo exhibit by Andrew Moore a couple years back in Washington. I am a little leery of visiting though because of all the bad news I’ve been hearing. You have to wonder if it is safe. You felt ok travelling about on your own? Or did you always travel with another person? I’d be on my own if I go. Thinking maybe next summer.

  15. Hi Guylaine – It’s a very interesting, albeit sad place to explore. I would not recommend travelling alone if you plan on exploring abandoned sites. As they are not safe and you may get injured, it’s best to have a friend of two along with you.

  16. You can’t possibly base a visit to Detroit on one abandoned building. The city as a whole is on the up and up. There are many things do and see. Including jet skiing on the river to gambling and museums.

  17. I work in Detroit and but live twenty minutes away. After establishing a business in the booming down town area I will return to live there. If you listen to the people that visit and the good news coming out of this city, you’ll be in high cheers. Don’t count us out yet. This city is still great for the simple fact that it still makes headlines.

  18. Hi Otler,

    If you look through my Detroit archive, you can see I visited more than the Packard Plant. I’m just fond of urban exploration so it was a natural thing to do while there. I also visited the African Bead Museum, Heidelberg Project, farmer’s market, island, and more. Even went to that strange pub with feather bowling. To be honest, jet skiing on the river or gambling are of absolutely no interest to me. 🙂

    I do truly hope the city is doing better, but I won’t be convinced by headline grabbing hipsters from NYC or SF who buy a cheap house and open up their own vegan restaurant, with vegetables grown on their urban farm in collaboration with other hipsters. Those types of headlines seem to grab the most press and does nothing to help the people who need it most.

    What will convince me that Detroit is doing better is when positive social and economic change are way more apparent. I’d Like to feel safe travelling around the city, see something done with all those abandoned buildings so the vibe is way less apocalyptic, ensure that street lights lit up at night etc.

    Most of all, I’d like to see poor people who were affected most by the economic situation there have more opportunities for education and employment. My friend and I talked to a lot of homeless people and some community activists during our visit and their view was unfortunately not as positive as yours.

    I do hope to visit again someday (I live in Berlin now) as it’s a city very close to my heart. 🙂

    Cheryl

  19. The Packard Plant is owned by Fernando Palazuelo since October 2013. A lot of debris has been removed. Yet there is still a lot of debris left. It is a private property that is enclosed by a 8 foot fence. 6066 feet of fence to be exact. As mandated by the City of Detroit since 2019. Please quit telling people it is abandoned and to visit this site. There have been security 24 hours for over 8years now. People come down here and tear into the fence to gain access which os not right. Malicious destruction of property such as construction equipment, RV’s vehicles. People come here and spray paint workers property and break windows. I have countless pictures and video of this senseless destruction. Its one thing to come here and look at graffiti but to destroy property!! I know because IAm the property. Manager and it was my property damaged. So if you are going to report something please get it right. There are plenty of no tresspassing signs and barriers cleary posted that people disregard. No respect for private property. I as a Detroit resident could not freely go to any place and break in and “explore” without the police being called in the Suburbs. So why do it here? I have lost thousands of dollars due to vandalism. That i. Am still trying to recover ftom.All of it documented. So again please report accurately. Packard Plant is not an abandoned site. Im here 7 days a week. Thank you. Christopher Burns.

  20. I started working here 8 years ago in hopes of being a part of a grand effort to renovate and revitalize this property. To do a positive work. I pray to God this happens. The City of Detroit needs more jobs and proper preservation of this very important historical facility. I Am committed to this good work. To work with whomever that wants this objective to come to fruition.

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