Ford Motor Co. will save some architectural features from its former 1920s-era assembly building, which is slated to be torn down soon as part of the ongoing demolition of the old auto factory in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood.
Donna Inch, head of Ford Motor’s real estate subsidiary, told St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman this week that the company had decided to preserve parts of the historic facade on the building’s northwest corner. The pieces include seven bays with fluted columns, medallions and light fixtures, red clay roof tiles and the frieze on the west side.
It wasn’t immediately clear that the decision was new. A year ago, Ford site manager Mike Hogan was saying that the company planned to salvage part of the facade as well as some interior fixtures.
Architectural historian Brian McMahon, who lobbied hard to save part of the assembly building itself as well as the adjacent training center, said he was disappointed.
“I’m pleased to be able to save the pieces. It’s a gesture. It has some value,” said McMahon, who has written about the plant. “But it’s not going to mean much in a setting removed from the history of the activity that happened there.”
Coleman, however, said he was pleased with Ford’s decision to save the facade, which he said would be incorporated into future site redevelopment.
“I look forward to working with Ford and the developer to create a fitting memorial on the site,” he said in a statement.
And Council Member Chris Tolbert, who represents the area, said he was satisfied. “This recognizes the special place these buildings hold in our community, while balancing the need to prepare the site for redevelopment,” he said.
In her letter to Coleman, Inch wrote that officials had analyzed the options before choosing to preserve the elements listed, and had lined up a restoration company to remove and store the features until they can be reused.
She said the decision will best memorialize Ford’s heritage while fitting in with the city’s redevelopment plans.
Henry Ford himself chose the plant site because it could accommodate thousands of workers and take advantage of the hydroelectric potential of the nearby Mississippi River. The plant produced Model T’s, Galaxie LTDs and Ranger trucks before Ford closed it in 2011.
The company wants to make the 122-acre site as shovel-ready as possible, eventually turning it into a tract of grassy riverfront in hopes of drawing developers for a potential mix of housing, businesses and perhaps even light industry.