Kelvinator/American Motors Corporation HABS/HAER Photography

In the summer of 2022 I was approached by NorthPoint Development, whose office in Detroit had negotiated an agreement with the City of Detroit regarding a historic headquarters and factory complex on Plymouth Road. This complex was built in late 1926 and opened in early 1927 as the new headquarters for the Kelvinator Corporation, the Detroit-based company that pioneered the technology and the marketing for self-contained electric refrigerators for use in homes. Kelvinator then merged with Nash Motors in 1936 to form the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, which then merged with Hudson Motors in 1954 to form the American Motors Corporation. After acquiring American Motors in 1987, Chevrolet gradually moved staff from the Plymouth Road office. The complex was vacant and abandoned by 2009, then in the hands of the Detroit Land Bank by 2013 . Finally in late 2021 the City of Detroit agreed to convey the property to NorthPoint, which proposed to demolish both buildings and rebuild a light-industrial complex on the site. The project was not subject to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and the complex had never been evaluated for the National Register of Historic Places. Both the Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board and the developers, however, recognized the historical significance of the facility, and NorthPoint agreed to document the building to HABS/HAER standards. I was then contracted to prepare the HABS/HAER photography and historic narrative.

It was a fascinating narrative to write, as I was not aware of the role that Detroit played in the origins of the electric refrigeration industry, or of the close connections between the early automotive and refrigeration industries. The Kelvinator/AMC complex exemplified both of these themes. Sadly, the complex, like many of Detroit’s early industrial facilities, fell on hard times as the automotive industry had to adjust to new conditions. The factory was gradually abandoned beginning in the 1960s and 1970s as production moved elsewhere, and particularly after 1987 when Chrysler acquired American Motors, the headquarters saw dwindling numbers of staff until 2009, when it was finally abandoned. In the succeeding years the building was savagely stripped of significant amounts of metal framing, and by the summer of 2022 when I took the photographs, my client deemed that the interior of the headquarters building was not safe for entry, though the factory’s interior structure remained intact. It was still a fascinating complex to photograph, and I am so grateful for the opportunity.