Photo courtesy GM.
Seventeen thousand new bricks, a whole lotta mortar, a new roof, and an ultramodern climate-controlled archives room helped General Motors secure this year’s Preservation award in the MotorCities National Heritage Area’s Awards of Excellence.
“To think that we’re still operating in that same building today is tremendous,” said Kevin Kirbitz, the operations manager for GM’s Durant-Dort Factory One. “It is humbling for me to be associated with the building where a couple of 25-year-old Flint citizens had the idea for the business.”
Kirbitz accepted the award at the fifth annual MotorCities awards presentation last week in the Michigan statehouse. The award acknowledges the three years of restoration work GM put into the 30,000-square-foot building on Flint’s Water Street following the company’s purchase of it in 2013.
Originally built in 1880 for the Flint Cotton and Woolen Mills Company, six years later it was leased to the Flint Road Cart Company, a business that William C. Durant and Josiah Dort started and later renamed the Durant-Dort Carriage Company. While Durant and Dort built horse-drawn vehicles in the two-story factory for the next few decades, the profits from that business allowed Durant to venture into automobiles, first by buying Buick and later by founding General Motors. No General Motors cars were ever built in the factory, though Dort did build automobiles there under his own name from 1915 to 1924.
While the carriage company’s offices, located across the street from the factory, were where Durant signed the papers incorporating GM as a New Jersey-based company in 1908, GM considers the factory building — which it has since renamed Durant-Dort Factory One — as “the birthplace of General Motors.”
The building was restored once in the 1980s, but upon buying it, GM discovered bowed walls, extensive water damage, rotted-out windows, and cracked or missing masonry and mortar. “The goal was to preserve an early cornerstone of the global auto industry in Flint and create a modern meeting and exhibition space for GM and the community,” according to GM’s website for the building. The plan also called for GM to relocate its archives from Kettering University to the building, so the automaker hired Detroit-based architecture firm SmithGroup, primarily for its experience in designing for archives.
That archive of more than 100,000 documents and artifacts now resides in a glass-encased vapor-sealed climate-controlled room in the center of the building, which also sees rotating displays of vehicles in GM’s collections. The renovated factory re-opened in 2017.
The Durant-Dort Factory One beat out two other candidates for the MotorCities preservation award: Ford’s Cherry Hill Village Industries factory and the Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society’s “Carriages to Cars” program.
In addition, MotorCities presented awards for Heritage/Tourism and for Education/Interpretation, which went to Ted and Mary Stahl’s Stahl Automotive Foundation “which stands to foster education and appreciation of vehicles of all makes and model at their museum through hands-on interaction” and the Model T Outreach Program conducted by the Casual Ts and Piquette Ts chapters of the Model T Ford Club International.
For more information about the MotorCities National Heritage Area and its Awards of Excellence, visit MotorCities.org.