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Tour to offer last look at a Model T factory before its pending renovation

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Photo via Indiana Landmarks.

After multiple considered and discarded ideas over the last several years, the Indianapolis plant that once churned out Ford Model Ts is slated for transformation into apartments and retail shops, though not before one last tour of the vast empty building this weekend.

As demand for the Model T increased exponentially in the years after its introduction, Ford addressed production bottlenecks by building a couple dozen assembly plants around the country. Indianapolis, home to a number of carmakers — among them Stutz, Cole, and Waverly — had a ready workforce, making it a natural fit for a Ford factory. Designed by Seattle architect John Graham, the factory went up in 1914 near the corner of East Washington and North Oriental streets and began production in 1915.

As Indiana Landmarks described the opening ceremonies for the factory, which took place during that year’s Indianapolis Auto Show,

Ford supplied 350 Model Ts to chauffeur dignitaries, joined by 200 other cars, in a two-mile-long parade from the Chamber of Commerce, a block north of Monument Circle, to the facility on East Washington. While the mayor addressed the crowd, a brand-new Ford was completely assembled and then provided for his ride back to City Hall.

Automobile production — which peaked in 1923 at 85,000 cars and employed about 300 people — continued at the factory until 1932. Ford then kept the building open for the next 10 years or so as a service and sales branch before selling the factory to battery maker P.R. Mallory; the Mallory Technical Institute later occupied the building before the Indianapolis Public School system bought it to use as a warehouse.

Ford Motor Company photo.

Its future fell into doubt in recent years, however: Following the school system’s decision to vacate the former factory, Indiana Landmarks listed the building on its 10 Most Endangered list in 2016.

“Places that land on the 10 Most Endangered often face a combination of problems rather than a single threat,” Marsh Davis, president of Indiana Landmarks, said when announcing the list. “A bid for demolition is a loud signal, of course, but many of these sites suffer abandonment, neglect, dilapidation, obsolete use, unreasonable above-market sale price, sympathetic owners who simply lack money for repairs, an out-of-the-way location — or its opposite, encroaching sprawl that makes the land more valuable without the landmark.”

The school system in 2014 thought it had a buyer in Angie’s List, but those plans, which included a $40 million renovation of the factory, fell through. Downtown Indianapolis developer and collector-car dealer Shawn Miller reportedly had a plan in development to revitalize the factory earlier this year — one that would tie into an Indianapolis Museum of Automotive History — but the school system ultimately chose to sell the factory to TWG Development, which plans to renovate the factory for a mixed usage of offices, retail spaces, and apartments.

Before construction begins, however, Indiana Landmarks has planned a self-guided tour of the plant for this Saturday, highlighted by Model Ts and interspersed with volunteers discussing aspects of the building’s history.

The tour is free for Indiana Landmarks members and $10 for non-members. For more information, visit