After announcing in April 2010 that there were discussions underway between Chrysler, the city and the United Auto Workers, aimed at constructing a Jeep off-road playground on the 70-acre site of the original Jeep factory, the Toledo Blade reported in 2011 that the Toledo Port Authority had purchased the property and had unveiled a concept (110K JPEG) for industrial development. The 111-acre site is to be known as "Overland Park" in honor of the one original smokestack (40K JPEG) still standing.
Dave Walinski wrote from Toledo: " I wanted to let you know that just about the whole old plant is gone now. The newer paint plant still remains, but I am not sure how long. Just yesterday 18 June two of the large smoke stacks were torn down. The third, the large one with the word OVERLAND, is going to be left as a part of the history of that land. I live in Toledo and grew up in the neighborhood within a mile of the old plant, and have vivid memories of the air whistle that started the workday, then at noon and at the end of the workday. They even had Berdan Avenue, one of the main streets into the plant from the western part of the city, change from a two-way street to one-way in at the beginning of the day, to one-way out at the end of the day, to help the traffic flow to and from the plant."
A series of large, detailed photos of the demolition site were taken by an unknown photographer on 19 February 2007, and are posted at AbandonedButNotForgotten.com.
On 26 June 2006, the Associated Press reported that the Parkway Jeep factory in Toledo was closing, as the last painted Wrangler body rolled off the assembly line. A company spokesman said DaimlerChrysler AG did not yet have a timeline for demolition of the remaining parts of the plant, including smokestacks that date to the 1920's and have been a Toledo landmark for generations.
Meanwhile, Bill Norris told The CJ3B Page, "I visited with longtime Jeep employee Ron Szymanski a few weeks ago. He is going through what's left of the buildings with the plant manager. He said they are tagging whatever info is still there to see if DCX wants it for the Chrysler Museum or their archives. Unfortunately, he said DCX isn't all that interested. He said there is a lot of prototype information still there from the 50's and 60's. He also told me the smokestacks are to come down sometime in August."
The AP story read in part: "The part of the plant demolished four years ago included the buildings where the World War II Jeeps were made and a building that had housed a museum preserving the plant's history through photographs and other collections since 1984. Chrysler saved about half of the museum's collection and returned the items on loan to their owners. Company officials have toured the remaining buildings a few times to select additional items, including prototype Jeep plans, for its museum and archives, said Ron Szymanski, a Jeep retiree and historian.
"For the past few years, about 250 workers at the Parkway factory have built and painted Wrangler bodies, then shipped them to another factory for final assembly. That plant, known as the Stickney factory, will remain intact, but the company has not determined its next use, a spokesman said. The redesigned 2007 Wrangler will be produced at a complex that includes three factories run by Jeep suppliers and located next to a Chrysler assembly plant."
This 2002 photo shows many of the fire extinguishers that formerly protected the Jeep Parkway plant, brought together for disposal.
A 28 June 2006 editorial in the Toledo Blade commented:
"To the tens of thousands of workers who turned out 11 million cars and trucks there for more than nine decades, the closing of the Jeep Parkway plant this week will seem like the loss of an old friend. Sadness abounds for the passing not only of the familiar West Toledo factory with its trademark brick smokestacks but also for the demise of a rich slice of American culture embodied in what once seemed like an unending stream of good-paying industrial jobs.
"We may never see their like again on the same grand economic scale, but Toledo still has its Jeep, in spirit as well as steel, sheet metal, and rubber.
"The aging Stickney Avenue plant, which served as the final assembly point for Jeep Wranglers built at Parkway and is still used for work on the Jeep Liberty, will be saved, but its future also is unclear. Such is the fate of industrial plants that have outlived their usefulness. The multi-story Parkway facility, part of a veritable rabbit warren of assembly and paint shops, had long been too inefficient for profitability in the modern auto industry.
"Toledo was the place where SUVs were invented, or at least first produced, with roots in Jeep's old Jeepsters, Wagoneers, and Cherokees. They were, and are, a tough form of transportation, fitting for a city that was plenty tough in its day yet has seen its rough edges burnished by the passage of time and change.
"Indeed, change is the only constant. Jeep factories will never employ as many workers as they once did, nor roll out as many vehicles as in their heyday, but the product will be better built, by better trained and educated employees, in a sophisticated new working environment.
"The building may disappear, but the spirit will never die."
Visible from space: This 2005 satellite image courtesy of Google Earth shows the complete levelling of the northeast section of the old Jeep Parkway plant in Toledo, where most Willys/Kaiser/AMC/Chrysler Jeeps were built from World War II to the end of the twentieth century. See a larger image (110K JPEG).
An update from the Spring Willys Reunion held in Toledo in June 2002, includes a photo showing that the demolition of the north end of the plant is pretty much complete as of that date. The Jeep House museum building is still standing but apparently slated to disappear as well.
"A 16,000-pound wrecking ball knocks down the west end of Building 110 at the Toledo Jeep plant on Jeep Parkway." This Toledo Blade photo by Lori King accompanied the following 24 March article, the most complete story so far on the demolition of one-third of the 6 million square feet of building space at the oldest auto manufacturing plant in the United States.
By George J. Tanber, Blade staff writer
From Jeep Parkway, the old Toledo Jeep plant appears to stretch out for blocks as it has for 100 years, making it one of the nation's oldest vehicle-manufacturing plants.
Peer through the large, street-side windows of the building, however, and the reality is considerably different. The rooms are gone; the third floor is gone. Everything is gone, leaving only the building front, much like prop-walled buildings on a Hollywood movie set.
Concrete slabs and steel rods dangle from the façade's backside, where a 16,500-pound wrecking ball has been busy since fall. In all, only eight of the 60 buildings that comprise DaimlerChrysler's Jeep Parkway plant - at one time the former Willys Overland plant and the backbone of Jeep production for America's military - are scheduled for demolition. But the eight comprise nearly a third of the 6 million square feet of building space.
The view for motorists traveling I-75 gives a much clearer picture of the demolition work going on. Large sections of north exterior walls remain standing, but the interiors appear to have been gutted as if by a precision Air Force bomb.
The company's decision to raze part of the Jeep Parkway plant occurred after the company last year opened its $750 million North Toledo Assembly plant on Stickney Avenue, where it makes Liberty and Wrangler vehicles.
Although the Liberty is completely built at the Stickney plant, the company opted for cost-saving reasons to keep the old plant partially open for preliminary work on the Wrangler before shipping the bodies to the Stickney plant for completion.
The result is a unique partial demolition assignment for DaimlerChrysler officials and Bierlein, the Midland, Mich., company hired to raze the buildings.
"You can't interfere with the current production; that's the trickiest part," said David Miller, DaimlerChrysler's manager on the Jeep Parkway demolition project.
For the 62-year-old Mr. Miller, this is his 10th - and last - demolition effort. He will retire in the fall after a 43-year career that began with Chrysler. A production manager, Mr. Miller was chosen in 1990 to direct the razing of the company's 4.5-million-square-foot Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit, the country's second oldest auto manufacturing facility after the Jeep Parkway plant.
As the auto industry consolidated in the 1990s and companies worked to improve their efficiency, older plants became expendable. The Toledo Jeep Parkway plant site had its origins several miles away, at Detroit and Central avenues, where Col. Albert Pope turned his American Bicycle Co. into the International Motor Co. in 1902. The company was renamed Pope Motor Co. the following year and had some success before shutting down in 1907.
John North Willys bought the facility in 1909 and moved his Indiana-based Overland Automobile Co. to Toledo in 1911. Mr. Willys, moving west toward the present-day Jeep Parkway, added building after building on the sprawling site, which was considered rural Toledo at the time.
Over the years the company was sold to Kaiser-Frazer Corp., American Motors, and Chrysler Corp. Chrysler and DaimlerBenz merged in 1999 to form DaimlerChrysler.
Strict federal regulations born out of environmental and safety concerns have made razing old factories a time-consuming and costly process. As a result, DaimlerChrysler has assembled a 13-member team with divergent backgrounds under Mr. Miller to oversee each demolition. On Thursday, a cold and blustery spring morning, some team members gathered at a work-site trailer to discuss the project. They included Mr. Miller; Michael Curry, a microbiologist; Gary Stanczuk, a geologist; Kathy Graham, who rose from a production line job in 1995 to spokeswoman for Mr. Miller's group; and Mike Burch, Bierlein's project manager. Before the wrecking ball could take its first swipe, much preliminary work had to be completed by this team.
For instance, a considerable amount of asbestos, found around pipes, under floors, and in window frames, was removed last summer. Building 90 - most Jeep Parkway plant buildings are referred to by numbers - had an entire side built mostly of glass, all of which was encased in asbestos, according to Mr. Curry. "It was quite a big task," he said.
Once the asbestos removal was certified by a DaimlerChrysler-retained inspector, the company began its environmental cleanup. That included removing florescent bulbs, which contain mercury, and their frames, filled with PCBs; cleaning out pits filled with oil, and destroying storage tanks that held up to 20,000 gallons of everything from gasoline to antifreeze and thinners to solvents. That cleanup also was certified, Mr. Miller said.
Demolition commenced Nov. 12 with a 15-man crew, a 164-foot crane, and a bevy of front-end loaders, shovels, and dump trucks. First to go was the 200-square-foot Mather Building, built in 1915, once home to the Mather Spring Co., and a DaimlerChrysler repair shop. Next up was Building 90, a production facility. About 80 percent of it has been demolished. Mr. Burch will wait until April 1 to take down the rest while the remaining 609 Jeep Parkway plant employees will be off for a planned Easter break.
Buildings 46B, 46D, and 48, former assembly operation sites, have been partially razed. Their proximity to Buildings 46 and 46A make the operation delicate, according to Mr. Miller. A wall will have to be constructed between the active and inactive buildings so as not to disrupt production of the Wranglers. Mr. Burch said there's always the danger of live electrical wires being severed or structures still in use being damaged.
Most of the three-story Building 107 is down. On Thursday, the wrecking ball worked its way deep into the five-story administration Building 110, where a Jeep Wrangler shell still rests on top. Mr. Miller said 110 is the largest and toughest job. Meanwhile, front-end loaders worked their way through the interior rubble, picking out the steel, the concrete, the ducts, and the pipes, and dumping them into piles.
As part of its compensation, Bierlein sells everything but wood and glass to recycling companies. Once it was a lucrative bonus to the standard demolition contract, according to Mr. Burch, but now recycling fees are included in the bid process. "Owners are getting smarter, and the competition is getting smarter," he said.
DaimlerChrysler officials declined to give a total demolition cost. Bierlein's work, scheduled to be completed in September, is ahead of schedule with 60 percent of the job done. A mild, virtually snow-less winter is the principal reason, Mr. Burch said. Spring and summer bring their own problems. Rain is required to keep down dust - one of the great enemies of any demolition project. But not too much rain, thank you, or the dirt will turn to mud.
One reason Mr. Miller and Mr. Burch opted to keep the Jeep Parkway building facades up was to help contain the dust. Mr. Burch had another reason. "It keeps out the gawkers," he said.
One former employee, Ali Talb, who worked 34 years at the plant's paint shop, said he hates to see the demolition. "I made my living there," he said. "I bought my home. I raised my family. That place did a lot of things for the community. I miss it. I have a lot of memories there. I don't think I could stand it. I'll break down and cry."
Mr. Talb, recalling all the chemicals and petroleum products used in the paint shop, wondered what, if anything, the Jeep Parkway site could be used for in the future. Ms. Graham said DaimlerChrysler has yet to make that decision, but environmental studies under way on the site have only found petroleum products.
The company plans to continue production of the Wrangler through 2007, after which the company will decide whether to continue production at Jeep Parkway or use the site for some other purpose. She noted that a pair of DaimlerChrysler Mack engine plant sites in Michigan now have new facilities located there, while Chrysler's old Highland Park headquarters, which had industrial usage at one time, has been redeveloped into an office park. "Our decision will be a business one, but we do have ties with the city, we value the history, and we do feel a responsibility," Ms. Graham said.
(Toledo Blade, Sunday, March 24, 2002)
Unfortunately it turns out that the demolition at the north end of the Parkway Jeep plant in Toledo is an ongoing, large-scale project. This picture from Keith Buckley pretty well says it all. A page from a vintage Parts List, displaying the CJ-3B grille which is so carefully protected by DaimlerChrysler lawyers, blows across the vacant parking lot.
The photo was taken beside the former site of Building 52, the historic Willys-Overland Research Building. See also a detail photo of the front of Building 52 (100K JPEG). Keith said that stories were circulating that the plant buildings were demolished complete with all contents and fixtures.
Todd Paisley sent this diagram and update on what appeared as of early February 2002 to be DaimlerChrysler's plan for the future of the plant:
"The Jeep House Museum has been spared for now. But for how long, who knows. The remainder of the plant will continue to produce Wrangler bodies and paint them for shipment up the road to the new plant. One thing is looming over the horizon though, that doesn't bode well for the rest of the plant: the EPA has new paint guidelines coming into effect, and the plant will have to be retrofitted with new equipment to meet those guidelines. Whether or not they do this or just build another paint shop at the new plant remains to be seen."
The tiny Jeep House Museum can be better seen in a larger 1200x800 version (330K JPEG) of the aerial photo.
Todd Paisley reported, "I spent Friday (11 January) with (Jeep House Museum curator) Ron Szymanski and the plant videographer, getting one last tour of the factory. The W-O Research building (Building 52) and the Mather Spring building are already down and Building 110 is starting to go. We were all getting ready to climb the ramp to the roof when the contractor said we couldn't take any photos and we couldn't go into any buildings."
The photo below by Diane Hires was published in the January 1, 2002 edition of the Toledo Blade, under the headline "Out with the old at Jeep." The Blade says, "DaimlerChrysler AG has started demolishing part of Toledo's Jeep Parkway plant, as seen from Maplewood Avenue. The automaker is razing various buildings, including areas where Jeep Cherokees were made until last summer. The Jeep Wrangler continues to be built and painted in part of the plant and finished at Toledo Jeep's Stickney Avenue factory."
Keith Buckley adds, "The building that is rubble in the newspaper picture is the Mather Spring building. It was used to make bedsprings in the early 1900's. When Jeep used it in the last 25 years or so, it housed Low Bake paint repair, vehicle audits, and the service garage for the executive fleet. In several of the early movies there were images of vehicles driving out of that building. My understanding is that theses shots were staged only because there was a rail siding in the center of the building. Does anybody have more information on earlier uses of that building?"
The "Jeep" sign in the newspaper photo, is on the end of Building 107 which extends at a 45-degree angle on the aerial photo. The sloping covered ramp can be seen in both photos. Todd says, "The building with the ramp coming down from it is Building 110. (This is the building you see in some of the newsreels that show the Jeeps parked on the roof of the building. The ramp runs down the side of 107.) The W-O Research Building was housed in Building 52, next to the Jeep House Museum, which used to be the administration building for Mather Spring."
The photo at right by Dan Tyburski of Access Toledo shows the remains of Building 52, built in 1918, where most Jeep prototypes were created over the years.
For more about the research work carried out in Building 52, see Willys Engineering Dept. Calculations on The CJ3B Page.
Most of the vehicle collection of the "Jeep House Museum" was stored in the building until recently, as seen in On the Trail of Jeep History.
Gary Keating quite correctly clarifies that the recent demolition work at the plant, is not the first step. He sent along the cover of the August 12, 1979 issue of Toledo magazine, showing the razing by implosion of the Willys-Overland Administration Building across the street from the rest of the plant. The impressive building, which is seen in old W-O photographs (including on the far right of the aerial photo,) was replaced by an employee parking lot.
Thanks to Gary, and to Jarek Skonieczny, John McClenathen, Keith Buckley, Todd Paisley and Ron Szymanski. Luis Mariano Paz found the satellite photo. -- Derek Redmond
Return to Building Jeeps at The Parkway Plant on The CJ3B Page.
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