An Icon of Detroit's Ruin, Packard Plant Bridge Collapses, Fades Into History

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber
an icon of detroits ruin packard plant bridge collapses fades into history

If you drive, or walk, down Woodward Ave. from Detroit’s New Center area to downtown, you can’t help but notice the economic development along that corridor. Detroit has bottomed out. Areas formerly bereft of businesses and housing have been filled in, and hopefully that development will start spreading east and west of Woodward, Detroit’s version of Main Street. Over on the east side of town, one of America’s most blighted urban areas, there is another hopeful sign — a symbol of the city and domestic automobile industry’s decline has literally come crashing down.

The Packard plant bridge over East Grand Boulevard, target of lazy photojournalists for years, collapsed last week, perhaps due to extreme temperature swings the midwest has seen recently.

Detroit’s massive, sprawling, and mostly abandoned Packard plant, where for decades some of the world’s most prestigious luxury cars were made, has long been a symbol of the Motor City’s decline. It has made for dramatic photography for slothful news editors looking to illustrate the deterioration of both one of America’s great cities and one of its primary industries. It was recently used as the backdrop for the opening episode of the third season of Amazon’s Clarkson/Hammond/May vehicle, The Grand Tour.

However, the Packard factory really has nothing at all to do with how the Big Three managed to screw the pooch in the Malaise Era, ultimately giving up big fractions of market share to Japanese, German, and now Korean automakers over the past 40 years.

At the time of its construction in the early 20th century, the Packard plant was a modern marvel. The product of the genius of architect Albert Kahn and his engineer brother Julius (who developed reinforced concrete floors), the factory was obsolete by 1956, when it produced its last car and a struggling, about-to-die Packard moved production to a smaller, more efficient facility. It should be noted that Packard failed at a time when the Big Three were enjoying record sales and big profits. Chevy and Ford each sold over a million full-size cars in 1957. The problems particular to Packard’s demise had little or nothing to do with the structural problems of the domestic auto industry 60 years later.

Despite the fact it stopped produced cars long before most of you were born, the massive and sprawling factory that produced Packard automobiles erroneously became a symbol of the ills of the domestic auto industry that came to a head in 2007-2009, culminating in the bankruptcies and federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler.

If there is one image of the Packard plant that is genuinely iconic, a synedoche, a symbol that stands for the whole, it was the bridge that spanned East Grand Boulevard that was actually part of the Packard assembly line. As the facility was developed into the 1930s, buildings were added in an almost haphazard manner, and the bridge was used to transport partially assembled cars from one department to another.

In 2015, Arte Express, the company owned by Peruvian developer Fernando Palazuelo that has started redeveloping the site, starting with Packard’s administration building adjacent to the bridge, wrapped the graffiti covered bridge in a theatrical scrim printed with an image of how the bridge looked in the factory’s heyday.

They said at the time they would begin work on the bridge, but recent press reports say the fact that Arte Express only owns the northern half of the bridge hindered that work. The city of Detroit owns the southern half of the bridge and the adjacent building on the south side of East Grand Blvd. The city government’s involvement in the site has been a point of contention with owners and potential developers over the decades.

There is no word from Arte Express as to whether they plan on rebuilding the iconic structure. The city has hired a private demolition company to remove the wrecked span and clear the debris from the street. East Grand Boulevard will be closed while that takes place.

[Images:,, Ronnie Schreiber, Amazon]

Join the conversation
6 of 165 comments
  • Markf Markf on Feb 03, 2019

    "I feel sorry for you, Mark. What are you going to do when the economy drops out from under you… again?" Feel sorry all you like. The economic has never"dropped out from under me" What are YOU going to do when Trump wins...again?

    • See 3 previous
    • Markf Markf on Feb 04, 2019

      @el scotto " Isuspect that a great many of our right-leaning commenters are proud that our President bases a lot of his actions on the opinions of a blonde transvestite and an obese opioid addict." This is Left, homophobic, fat shaming, addict shaming all in one comment

  • -Nate -Nate on Feb 04, 2019

    " I also heavily invested cash in stocks funds right after 2008 crash." The wise move to be sure . When investing, look to the long play, not clash, grab cash and slip ~ that's how most loose out . 'heavy investment' means different things to different people, I too gathered all the $ I could and fleshed out my investments, I don't ever expect to touch them, they're for my grand kids who'll inherit them for better or worse . -Nate

  • Analoggrotto Knew about it all along but only now did the risk analysis tilt against leaving it there.
  • Mike Beranek Funny story about the '80 T-bird. My old man's Dart Sport had given up the ghost so he was car-shopping. He & I dropped my mom at a store and then went to the Ford dealer, where we test-drove the new T-Bird (with digital dash!)So we pull up to the store to pick mom up. She walks out and dad says "We just bought it.". Mom stares at the Mulroney- almost 13 grand- and just about fell over.Dad had not in fact bought the T-Bird, instead he got a Cordoba for only 9 grand.
  • EngineerfromBaja_1990 I'd love a well preserved Mark VII LSC with the HO 5.0 for a weekend cruiser. Its design aged better than both the VI and VIII. Although I'd gladly take the latter as well (quad cam V8 and wrap around interior FTW)
  • Teddyc73 The Mark VIII was the first car I lusted over as a young new auto enthusiast. Still think it's a beauty after all these years.
  • Art Vandelay wish They’d do an SS version of the Bolt. We need more electric hot hatches and this is a clean enough design that it would look good