This week, as Washington has tried to decide whether to rescue the automobile industry, Americans have wondered what it looks like when a giant automobile company goes under. The answer can be found in Detroit.
So the property is virtually abandoned, and much of it has been empty for years. Almost all the windows in the four- and five-story buildings — thousands of them — are broken. The bricks and masonry are crumbling, and two large enclosed bridges that soar over streets are falling apart. Part of one of the large passageways recently collapsed onto Bellevue Avenue, and still sits there, blocking the street.
Some floors have caved in because metal scrappers have cut out the I-beams. Vast rooms are filled with trash, from old shoes to unwanted pleasure boats.
Nature has reasserted itself: Trees grow on the roof and moss has spread inside. Chalky stalactites hang from ceilings, apparently the result of rain coursing through the walls.
Water from broken pipes collects into small lakes, freezes during the Michigan winters, then breaks up in spring and runs out of the plant onto neighboring streets. The plant is home to wild dogs, feral cats, homeless people. Arson is a regular event.
In its day, when Detroit was the Silicon Valley of the early 20th century, the Packard complex was a center for innovation. In 1905, the architect Albert Kahn designed Building No. 10 with reinforced steel concrete, creating an airy, spacious workspace. Such construction revolutionized the building of factories around the world.