Fisher Body Plant 21
Location Name: Fisher Body Plant 21 (Detroit, Michigan)
Location Type: Abandoned Site (Factory)
Year Completed: 1919
Architect(s): Albert Kahn
Fisher Body Plant Number 21 was built in 1919 by the expanding Fisher Body Corporation, a major automotive supplier of automobile bodies. Architect Albert Kahn was chosen to design the six-story structure in the heart of the Milwaukee Junction area of Detroit. The plant’s location at Milwaukee Junction gave it easy access to a major railroad network, helping it distribute Fisher bodies around the world. Kahn’s design for Fisher 21 is notable for its use of reinforced concrete; a construction method he began just a decade earlier at the nearby Packard Motor Car Company. The reinforced concrete structure was built to be able to carry heavy loads that would otherwise not be possible with earlier building technology.
The 536,000 square foot factory was used from 1919 to 1929 for the production of Cadillac and Buick car bodies (until Buick moved operations to Flint). The next few decades saw the building used as an engineering facility and also for wartime production during World War II. During Detroit’s years as the ‘Arsenal of Democracy,’ Fisher 21 produced P-80 Lockheed Shooting Star planes, F9-4 Corsair Shipboard Fighters and some assemblies for B-25 Mitchell Bombers. In 1956, the plant shifted to production of Cadillac limousine bodies as well as ambulances and small buses. The plant remained active until 1974 when General Motors (who had acquired Fisher Body Corporation) closed production at Fisher 21.
After General Motors left Fisher, several paint companies operated at the facility until the building went vacant in 1994. Ever since the mid-1990s, Fisher 21 has become a haven for illegal dumping, graffiti artists and homeless people looking for shelter from the elements. Though cleanup efforts were undertaken by the EPA in 2008, Fisher still sits empty and open to trespass. The building has become a mecca for artists and urban explorers interested in the beauty that can still be found in the historic factory. Artist Scott Hocking’s ‘Ziggurat’ installation was completed in 2008. A ziggurat (similar to a pyramid) created with wooden floor blocks found within the plant sits silently, surrounded by the eerie bluish-green light that comes in through Fisher’s colored glass windows.
Today, Fisher sits timelessly awaiting its fate. No plans exist to redevelop or destroy the structure. Simply put, there are too many large factories and buildings in Detroit to expect that they will all be saved. The nearby Russell Industrial Center has been repurposed. Across the street from Fisher 21, the old Ford Motor Company Piquette Avenue Plant has been converted to the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex (a museum). Whether or not Fisher 21 will join these lucky historic treasures has not yet been determined.
Fisher Body Plant 21 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Piquette Avenue Industrial Historic District in 2004.Sources