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Ford Assembly Plant Comes Back to Life

Metro Jacksonville takes a look at the restoration and adaptive reuse of a Ford Assembly Plant in California to show the potential of what could be done with our own abandoned, isolated historic industrial facility.

Published March 3, 2010 in Urban Issues      55 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

About the Richmond, CA Ford Assembly Plant

Image by Sanfranman59

The Ford Richmond Plant, formally the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant, in Richmond, California, was the largest assembly plant to be built on the West Coast and its conversion to wartime production during World War II aided the United States' war effort. The plant is part of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in 1930 during the Great Depression, the assembly plant measures nearly 500,000 square feet. The factory was a major stimulant to the local and regional economy and was an important development in Richmond's inner harbor and port plan. Ford became Richmond's third largest employer, behind Standard Oil and the Santa Fe Railroad. It is also an outstanding example of 20th-century industrial architecture designed by architect Albert Kahn, known for his "daylight factory" design, which employed extensive window openings that became his trademark. The main building is composed of a two-story section, a single-story section, a craneway, a boiler house and a shed canopy structure over the railroad track.

To ensure that America prepared for total war by mobilizing all the industrial might of the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned the production of civilian automobiles during WWII. The Richmond Ford Assembly Plant switched to assembling jeeps and to putting the finishing touches on tanks, half-tracked armored personnel carriers, armored cars and other military vehicles destined for the Pacific Theater. By July 1942, military combat vehicles began flowing into the Richmond Ford plant to get final processing before being transported out the deep-water channel to the war zones. The "Richmond Tank Depot" (only one of three tank depots in the country) as the Ford plant was then called, helped keep American fighting men supplied with up-to-the-minute improvements in their battle equipment. Approximately 49,000 jeeps were assembled and 91,000 other military vehicles were processed here.

In mobilizing the wartime production effort to its full potential, Federal military authorities and private industry began to work closely together on a scale never seen before in American history. This laid the groundwork for what became known as the "military-industrial complex" during the Cold War years. This Assembly Plant was one cog in the mobilization of the "Arsenal of Democracy" and a historic part of what is today's industrial culture of the United States.

After the war, the devastation to the local economy as a result of the closing of the Richmond Shipyards would have been crippling had it not been for the continued production of the Ford Plant. The last Ford was assembled in February 1953, with the plant being closed in 1956 and production transferred to the San Jose Assembly Plant because of the inability to accommodate increased productivity demands.

In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake severely damaged the plant. After the earthquake, the City of Richmond repaired and prepared the Ford Assembly building for rehabilitation and selected Orton Development as the developer of the rehabilitation project. In 2008, after the building's rehabilitation was completed, tenants including SunPower Corporation and Mountain Hardware made the building their new home. The craneway of the building is also used for banquets, weddings, and corporate events.

Richmond's Plant Today: Craneway Pavilion

The 45,000 square foot bay front Craneway Pavilion, the southernmost portion of the complex, now offers the largest and finest event space in the Bay Area, with stunning architecture and breathtaking views.

For more information and images:

Richmond's Plant Today: Boilerhouse Restaurant

The Boilerhouse restaurant sits adjacent to the Craneway Pavilion and offers seasonal american cuisine, set against a backdrop of original equipment form the Ford Boiler Room.

For more information and images:

Richmond Ford Assembly Plant aerial

The preservation of the Richmond, CA Ford assembly plant may suggest that there may be a future mix of uses suitable for the restoration of our own Albert Kahn designed masterpiece.

Article by Ennis Davis



March 03, 2010, 06:47:01 AM
Project is featured in this month's Architectural Record magazine.


March 03, 2010, 06:51:17 AM
For those that aren't familiar with Jacksonville's Ford Assembly Plant:


March 03, 2010, 07:10:48 AM
Something like that could spark the rebirth of Tallyrand and the A Phillip Randolph area...


March 03, 2010, 07:22:44 AM
Great Find.


March 03, 2010, 07:54:10 AM
I know that they city is focused one bringing commercial activity to Cecil Field, but is there any chance that they could lure companies to Jacksonville by promoting this location?

I have not been to Cecil so I don't know what it has to offer, other than the information I have read about in articles.  However, with the Ford plant's location on the St. John's and proximity to downtown, it seems as though it has benefits that Cecil does not have.

Wacca Pilatka

March 03, 2010, 08:34:40 AM
I don't think I ever appreciated the beauty of an industrial building until I read about the Ford plant in Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage.


March 03, 2010, 08:58:46 AM
Cecil Field has four paved runways. They range in length from 8,000 to 12,000 feet. It also has a little more than 22,000 acres of space. 

The old ford plant has a two lane road access, little used railroad spur that may not be operational, and river access that is silted in on two sides and only around 22' on the remaining third.  The property may be 23 acres but it is hemmed in. Interstate access is not convienent.

I don't think the ford plant is that attractive to commercial interests.


March 03, 2010, 09:03:55 AM
Is the spur operational?
Is it CSX?


March 03, 2010, 09:04:27 AM
Some historical information on Jacksonville's Ford plant from

Arlington, The St Johns, and Henry Ford

by Cleve Powell
At the turn of the twentieth century two unrelated projects would bond and result in Jacksonville becoming the little Detroit of Northeast Florida. Henry Ford was designing gas powered tractors to help America boost its crop production, and Jacksonville, with federal assistance, turned the St Johns River up to Jacksonville into a deepwater port with a channel depth of 18'.

Ford continued to develop trucks and automobiles (even race cars), and by September 27, 1908, the first Model T was produced. Jacksonville started construction of the Municipal Docks on Talleyrand Avenue in 1913. The community of Arlington was directly across the river and had become a viable growing neighborhood. A ferry began service from Arlington to Fairfield near the docks in 1914. By 1916 the channel was being deepened to thirty feet in depth and three hundred feet in width. Many of Arlington's early settlers worked on the improvements on the river and the docks. Now it was time to benefit from the industrial port they had created

These improvements undoubtedly brought Ford to Jacksonville and produced a byline in the March, 1925 issue of Ford's monthly newsletter

“Ocean Transportation of Ford Products; Facilities for Other Shippers Provided by Large Dock”

The article heralds the opening in Jacksonville in November 1924 of a full Ford assembly plant with a capacity to build 150 Model Ts in an eight hour day. The building was of standard Ford assembly plant design 200' x 560' and was located at the foot of Wambolt Street, just north of where the Mathews Bridge would be built in later years. Both are still standing today.

The plant employed an estimated 600 men, many of whom lived in “East” and South Jacksonville or Arlington. Energy for the production line was electricity supplied by a Ford designed generator station. It was powered by steam heated by fuel oil and used water filtered from the river. The steam was also used to heat the paint drying ovens.

The plant had excellent rail and water transportation facilities with a rail line going directly into the building and another to the end of a 300' wide concrete dock that extents into the river 460'. The S. S. Oneida* of the Ford Fleet delivered parts on its new Norfolk, Jacksonville, New Orleans, and Houston route, and carried commercial cargo on its return trip.

The plant was modified in 1926 to produce 200 cars a day, and under Ford's design the original building was modified adding 240' on the dock without loss of a single day of production. In 1927 Ford closed all his plants for several months to retool for the production of the Model A which boasted 40 hp, four wheel brakes and a selective gear ratio. 15,000,000 Model Ts were produced, and dealers offered deals to Model T owners while waiting on the Model A, such as fenders replaced from $8-$10, tune-ups $1.00, and a set of four new pistons and rings for $7. 50. For $25-$30 you could have your engine and transmission overhauled.

Over 5,000,000 Model As were made before they were discontinued in 1931. Their prices ranged from $385 for a roadster to $550 for a touring sedan. In 1932 Ford switched from the Model A to a Model B which was a much updated version of the Model A. They also came out with the famous Ford flathead V-8, which was made until 1953. In 1932, the bodies on the Model B and the Ford V-8s were almost identical to the Model A with a more classic grill and other improved features.

Having always been a neighborhood of marine technicians and shipyard workers, Arlington had quite a few of its finest that adapted well and worked at the Ford Plant. Some that are still remembered were Wilbur Larry and Henry Odell by Thelma Bishop Larry (Wilbur's widow). In a recent phone conversation, she said that Wilbur worked very hard putting the final finish on the cars, Henry who was in the family probably did seam work. Richard Steeves remembers Wilbur buying a new Ford at the plant and driving it off the ferry in Arlington. He then put it in reverse and backed all the way to the crossroads to show how fast it went in reverse. (probably a Model A). Thelma who was raised by Grandma Olson moved to Ohio, and Wilbur quit his job and went to Ohio to ask her to marry him.

Manning Woodley, who is a member of our group, says that his father worked there as a supervisor. George Carter remembers tales of boys riding on the big “wheels” (propellers) on the Ford ship like a ferris wheel while they turned slowly idled in port.

Bob Sikes who got this information together while doing research on his father's life has found the following references to Arlington residents who worked at ford in the 1930 census:

Wickerman, Henry, Painter
Holden, George, Laborer
Miller, Sarah, Comptroller
Adams, Jerry, Inspector
Larry, Wilbur, Painter
Turner, Alison J., Foreman
Nevens, Blair, Machinist
Floyd, Marion C., Machinist
Roundtree, George, Machinist
Anderson, John, Machinist
Sigler, Hugh, Assembly
Bloodworth, Jeff, Mechanic
Gautry, Walter, Stock Clerk
Emerson, Robert, Machinist
Futrel, Willy, Upholstery
Braddock, Arnold, Assembly
Roberts, John, Mechanic

If all of these people rode the 7:00 A.M. ferry it would be quite a crowd. In talking with J. C. Olson he mentioned a walk between his grandmother's house that sat on the top of the hill on River Bluff Road South and his father, Cecil Olson's home, which was a little closer to Arlington Road about 300' apart.

“The walk was made of steel plates that came from the Ford Plant, and I remember walking on it thinking that it stayed shiny from use.”

Richard also remembers one of the Morel boys working on Ford's ship in the engine room, and when they got the order to go forward to pull away from the dock, he accidentally went in reverse and it cracked the bulkhead. I'm sure there are a lot more stories from the [Ford} past. The warehouse was used by Ford until the mid-sixties, and Jerry Nolan in search of a 57 T-Bird after they went out of production, found one by word of mouth in the old plant with the bumpers covered in grease to prevent rust. It had sat there for some time and took a lot of cleaning up. It turns out that it was one of the last ones produced and was a “sweeper” made of a mismatch of leftover parts, even some from the 58 Fords. In Jerry's words “after Ford got the bugs out, it was a great car.”


March 03, 2010, 09:06:40 AM
Is the spur operational?
Is it CSX?

I'm not Ock, but the rail line that passes the site is in use and operated by CSX.  It serves the silos at the concrete terminals between the Matthews and Hart Bridges.


March 03, 2010, 09:18:22 AM
I don't think I ever appreciated the beauty of an industrial building until I read about the Ford plant in Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage.
Whatever Jacksonville may otherwise lack,
I don't think any other U.S. city has as fine an architectural guide as Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage.


March 03, 2010, 09:32:30 AM
So many possibilities here


March 03, 2010, 09:35:42 AM
I know the old thread mentioned an Aquarium. I think that would be a great reuse. Not sure how the traffic and buildings in front of it would be affected, but I like the idea.


March 03, 2010, 09:38:20 AM
Okay boys and girls, the "SPUR" is what?

The branchline from Export Yard into the Talleyrand - Commodore Point Terminals is very much alive and operated not by CSX but by TALLEYRAND TERMINAL COMPANY. Most of that trackage along the waterfront is city owned, under the JPA, and dates to the old City owned Municipal Docks and Terminal Railroad Company.

The distance from the west side of the plant to the railroad branch is only a couple hundred feet, and there is a slight grade difference between this and the old siding which still goes into the building. In effect the only thing missing is the switch and a bit of relay.

On the waterfront the South bulkhead of the wharf is served today by an active barge and marine contractor.



March 03, 2010, 09:46:36 AM
just one more example of Jacksonvilles architectural heritage being ignored by the city leaders.  They won't notice it until it has rotten into the ground and then pretend they cared.

If it is truely an Albert Kahn design, it could get listed on the national register of historic buildings and qualify for federal funding to restore.  I always thought this building would make a great artist studio building, similar to the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA.


March 03, 2010, 09:51:22 AM
Leave it to the Californians to get it right. Creative, visionary and open-minded. Excepting their presence in a few small lifestyle group segments (Downtown proponents, post-ers), Jax lacks all of these qualities.

Jax's Ford plant will sit empty and being demolished by neglect until some social service group decides to use their fundraising and endowments to turn it into Jax's next day center.


March 03, 2010, 09:56:54 AM
The comments are sad but true. I wish the citizens of this city cared more too. Not just the leadership.


March 03, 2010, 11:17:20 AM
i would LOVE to live at the old ford assembly plant.  if i had the money, i would buy the whole damn thing and make it my personal GIANT loft apartment.

Bike Jax

March 03, 2010, 11:32:34 AM
Maybe this would also be a good use for the Ford Plant:


March 03, 2010, 11:39:24 AM
It would make a good light rail maintenance facility for a future system.


March 03, 2010, 11:53:17 AM
Lunican...(tear), i'm not back to optimism, yet, but you've managed to put a dent in my negativity this a.m. thank you (weep, weep).  :)


March 03, 2010, 11:54:30 AM
It was noted that the structure needed to be saved immediately... scaffolding is pretty rusted and the bulkheads are in very poor condition.

It would make a great maintenance facility for a Jacksonville street car maintenace shop!


March 03, 2010, 11:57:13 AM
It was noted that the structure needed to be saved immediately... scaffolding is pretty rusted and the bulkheads are in very poor condition.

Which means nothing will be done, the building will have to be torn down and it will be used as bus parking during Jaguar games.


Wacca Pilatka

March 03, 2010, 12:16:14 PM
just one more example of Jacksonvilles architectural heritage being ignored by the city leaders.  They won't notice it until it has rotten into the ground and then pretend they cared.

If it is truely an Albert Kahn design, it could get listed on the national register of historic buildings and qualify for federal funding to restore.  I always thought this building would make a great artist studio building, similar to the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA.

Yes, it is definitely Kahn.


March 03, 2010, 01:06:57 PM
It would make a good light rail maintenance facility for a future system.

If we could get some people here to consider extending a street car system to the stadium and beyond to Talleyrand instead of the $ky-high-way, I would agree with you Lunican.

Imagine a streetcar system running down Bay Street, around the stadium turn, and up Talleyrand.  Connecting Downtown, a possible future convention center, East Bay entertainment district, the stadium/arena/ballpark, the Ford plant, and the port operations all in one route.  Sweet.  With those connections, it might even help support the creation of a "Jacksonville World Trade Center" office tower along the route.


March 03, 2010, 01:45:05 PM
Commodore Point is a definite, albeit long range planning opportunity.


March 03, 2010, 10:57:35 PM
So this is ONLY an idea, sort of like light rail? Ock - No pictures that take up 10 pages, I am so sad.


March 03, 2010, 11:43:54 PM
It would make a good Bloombox assembly plant


June 07, 2010, 11:21:14 PM
I hope that the facility can be put on the national register. and I love the idea (as Lunican put in pictures) of making it a maintenance facility. It sort of would continue its use in at least a similar direction.  Ock...for the record, I completely support your rail ideas.  Negative City Leadership and people such as M-train will alway hinder, cripple, ridicule, and complain about buildings such as these. Its much easier for people like them to sit on their Schlitz-drinking behinds and bad-mouth our "hot air" and vision , than to jump in and be part of a solution instead of most of the problem.

 As with the Laura Trio, Fire Station #5 , PS #4 , Genovar's Hall, etc , etc , etc,  I hope that a viable use IS identified for this building, and that It does realize utilization again.


June 08, 2010, 11:06:19 PM
The Ford Plant was featured in an article in Jax Magazine this month in case any of you are interested.


June 08, 2010, 11:50:55 PM
I drove the boat over there around the old Ford plant about two weeks ago. The last 20 feet or so was collasping. The deck on the north side showed signs of piling deterioration and settling. I wouldn't get too attached to this old structure.


June 09, 2010, 12:49:38 AM
:)    this happens to old buildings .Still does not mean it could not be saved or restored...although from your description , it sounds like it needs alot of work.  The same is true with the Laura Trio, Genovars Hall, Annie Lytle.  You should have seen the St James Building before it was made into City Hall.  This is a given with century or near-century old buildings.  Yet some countries preserve and repair them when they are hundreds of years old.  If the Ford Plant lost 20 feet of the building but the rest was spared and put back into use, Id rather see that than the entire thing demolished and gone forever , only for a vacant lot to replace it for someone to dump trash on.


June 09, 2010, 05:12:55 AM
last 20 feet of building or deck?


June 09, 2010, 11:10:44 AM
The pilings have been in bad shape for years.  I might try to take some pictures from the water if I make it out that way this weekend.


June 09, 2010, 11:47:48 AM
The Ford Plant was featured in an article in Jax Magazine this month in case any of you are interested.
Was it just a general information article?
Did it mention any plans for the property?


June 09, 2010, 12:01:27 PM
The Ford Plant was featured in an article in Jax Magazine this month in case any of you are interested.
Was it just a general information article?
Did it mention any plans for the property?

Both, its a two page article.  Nothing different in the article than info that has already been discussed on MetroJax.

Jax Mag has been doing a historical-type article every issue. 


June 09, 2010, 04:32:40 PM
Wish they would do one on my fav School House!!


September 23, 2010, 11:42:58 PM
Ford is going back to business.  Well, it was history after President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned the production of ford parts for civilian automobiles and other military vehicles. Hoping for the best that the facility can be put on the national register. This is such a romantic design. Cheers everybody!

Wait so...Ford is gonna use the facility again?


September 24, 2010, 12:13:48 AM
Wish they would do one on my fav School House!!

Send them a query letter... check any writers guide for format, then write it yourself and supply photos. Not only will the article be slanted the way YOU want it, with YOUR illustrations, it WILL put some change in your pockets.
This also goes for anyone else who would like to see xxx featured in some magazine. Don't worry about being a professional writer, if you can tell a story, sit down and write - most magazines are hungry, especially specialized ones like: homes, crafts, trains, planes, automobiles, bikes, gardens, kitchen, food, travel to certain places, etc.

Go for it Tim!



October 08, 2010, 01:12:12 PM
A few particulars on the tour tomorrow:
1. The building sits at the end of Wambolt St.. three blocks north of the Mathews Bridge, east of Talleyrand Ave.
2. Please check in before 10:00 for the tour and stick around for few brief announcements.
3. The tour will be self-guided. We will provide information and a map to everyone. Knowledgeable helpers will be inside to help answer questions.
4. Much of the building is in active use for light industrial purposes. Other parts are vacant and very interesting, but not too tidy. Please don't wear your best shoes or white outfits.
5. The building's owners are providing refreshments at the end of the tour. DOCOMOMO thanks them for all their help and their gracious welcome.



October 08, 2010, 01:38:55 PM
Oh I want to come! I will head over there via JTA bus in the morning then :D



October 08, 2010, 02:36:54 PM
i'll be there.  should be several kinds ov awesome.


October 09, 2010, 07:59:59 AM


October 09, 2010, 08:09:22 AM
Someone take good pics and share.


October 09, 2010, 08:36:22 AM
what exactly are the owners trying to promote with this tour?  are they selling something or just looking for ideas?


October 09, 2010, 08:42:28 AM
Its basically a 'raise the public awareness' tour.

Most of the historical community will be there as well.  On the facebook page, Jim Crooks and Wayne Wood have commented.

It should be a pretty fun tour.


October 09, 2010, 01:46:52 PM
It was a really fun tour, pretty well put on, and the weather was perfect.  That place is HUGE!!!  :o Lots of potential for doing just about anything...


October 09, 2010, 02:54:20 PM
any definitive news about any plans for the property?
how is the condition of the property?


October 09, 2010, 02:57:58 PM
It was great seeing the place. It has alot of potential. We took alot of pictures. Will try to post some.


October 09, 2010, 04:52:56 PM
Also, a big thank you to all those who helped put on the tour, printed up the paper work, assisted in parking, and provided candy and refreshments.  Kudos!


October 09, 2010, 05:16:37 PM
I can't believe I didn't know about this. Will they do another one?


October 09, 2010, 05:19:05 PM
The tour was not organized by the building's owners.  It was organized by the Florida chapter of DOCOMOMO US and was part of that organization's annual tour day.


October 09, 2010, 07:14:12 PM
Well, then thank you DOCOMOMO!  Also, a link on FCN (no video yet, sorry).


October 15, 2010, 10:10:29 PM

Video is up on the TU:
<a href=";width=630&amp;height=412&amp;flashID=myExperience&amp;bgcolor=%23FFFFFF&amp;playerID=40190701001&amp;publisherID=1155951816&amp;isVid=true&amp;dynamicStreaming=true&amp;%40videoPlayer=637852426001&amp;autoStart=" target="_blank" class="new_win">;width=630&amp;height=412&amp;flashID=myExperience&amp;bgcolor=%23FFFFFF&amp;playerID=40190701001&amp;publisherID=1155951816&amp;isVid=true&amp;dynamicStreaming=true&amp;%40videoPlayer=637852426001&amp;autoStart=</a>



August 24, 2011, 04:58:35 PM
I am a Landscape Architecture student at the University of Florida and am thinking about taking on the reinvention and preservation of the Ford Plant as my senior project. I would love to vist the plant or take a tour... does anybody know if this is possible or have suggestions for who I could get in contact with?
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