GM opens renovated ‘Factory One’ in Flint

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Flint — General Motors Co. on Monday opened a preserved and renovated Durant-Dort Carriage Co. “Factory One” here, returning to its roots in a building ripe with the automaker’s heritage.

Statues of William C "Billy" Durant and J. Dallas Dort stand next to the renovated carriage works building that they originally opened in 1886.  General Motors unveiled the renovation and repurposing done to the original factory during a ceremony Monday morning in Flint. The building houses the Kettering University Archives, a large space available to the public for events, and GM office and conference facilities.

The Detroit automaker bought the roughly 30,000-square-foot brick building in 2013 for an undisclosed price from Carriage Factory LP, and has pumped more than $3 million into preservation and renovation efforts. Work included repairs to the roof, extensive exterior brick work, installing new windows and doors and interior renovations that included exposing a wooden ceiling and wooden columns.

GM never built a car here, but many consider it the birthplace of the company. The historic factory dates to 1880 when it was part of the Flint Cotton & Woolen Mills company. In 1886, William Crapo Durant and Josiah Dallas Dort, who formed the Road Cart Co., leased the facility. Durant later took over Buick Motor Co. and grew the car business. He founded GM in 1908.

Factory One, operated by GM, will be open to the public by appointment. It features event space for up to 300 people and is targeted for corporate meetings, community events and educational use. The second floor was converted into meeting space and offices for GM.

“Factory One is once again an asset to this community and will be for generations to come,” said Kevin Kirbitz, operations manager for Factory One and a GM engineer.

The automaker also plans to use the space to showcase historic GM vehicles and to host auto reveals. Officials from Buick and GMC, for example, were on hand to view the space for possible use.

“When I came up here four years ago in the winter and started looking around, the map of the original factories up here, I was fascinated with it,” Mark Reuss, GM’s head of global product development, said in Flint. “There was a for sale sign on this. I said, ‘what is this?’ And he goes, ‘that’s really Factory One.’ I said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me,’ so we went to work pretty quick.”

Reuss was on hand Monday as GM opened the facility in a ceremony with guests including family members of the late Dort and Durant, community leaders, dealers and GM executives. He was slated to host a staff meeting in space upstairs Monday afternoon.

The space also now includes Kettering University’s free automotive research library that includes more than 100,000 historical documents, photos and artifacts about carriage-building and early automobile manufacturing and GM history.

Formerly General Motors Institute, Kettering relocated the Richard P. Scharchburg Archives from its campus about a mile away to Factory One, which sits along the Flint River on West Water Street. Kettering said the collection, established in 1974, will be more accessible to the public.

Part of the collection features thousands of Durant items, including a 1908 letter from a law firm suggesting Durant name his new automotive company General Motors. The archive contains documents from former GM leaders Harlow Curtice, F. James McDonald, Elliott “Pete” Estes, and Charles Kettering, the university’s namesake.

Thousands of Durant documents and items donated by his widow include a 1908 letter from a New York law firm suggesting he name his new automotive company General Motors. The archive also includes papers from former GM leaders Harlow Curtice, F. James McDonald and Elliott “Pete” Estes, and innovator Charles Kettering, for whom Kettering University is named.

Inside Factory One, GM has displayed a 1905 Buick Model C; 1913 Chevrolet Classic 6; and historic carriage.

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