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Piquette plant museum raising millions to renovate Model T birthplace

by Staff

The volunteer group that saved the historic Ford Piquette Avenue Plant from demolition and turned it into a public museum has launched a capital campaign to protect and preserve the building and its historic contents. The museum celebrates 120 years since the plant opened in 1904 this year.

The nonprofit organization acquired the building in 1999 and has been painstakingly restoring it ever since. Donations are tax deductible. The museum is not part of Ford Motor Co.

“We have major infrastructure needs to ensure the preservation of this U.S. National Historic Landmark,” Piquette Plant President and COO Jill Woodward said. “Our one and only elevator is 98 years old. We have no heat or AC in most of the building.”

The museum holds more than 65 vehicles, including No. 220 out of the 15 million-plus Model Ts sold worldwide.

Opening in 1904, the plant built eight of Henry Ford’s “letter cars” — B, C, F, K, N, R, S and SR — as he developed technologies and processes that culminated in the Model T. The museum’s vehicle collection includes all those, plus other historic and influential vehicles. Model T production in the plant began in 1908.

“We need about $8 million to finish all the projects on our list,” Woodward said. “Think about installing a brand new HVAC system in your house, then consider we have 67,000 square feet. Then we have to design one that doesn’t interfere with the historic structure, and with appropriate museum climate controls. That’s one project at about $1.5 million.”

The museum recently received a $500,000 challenge match grant from the National Endowment for Humanities to increase the museum’s accessibility, including a modern passenger elevator to supplement the 98-year-old freight elevator. Other improvements will include restrooms on every floor. The museum must raise $1.5 million from other donors to receive the NEH $500,000.

The museum has almost completed fundraising for a massive project to replace the building’s early-1900s electrical system.

Albert Kahn Associates, the Detroit architecture firm responsible for many of the region’s most historic buildings, including the Fisher Building and the largely demolished Packard plant, is “on board, if we can raise the money,” Woodward said.

The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, except Jan. 1, Easter, July 4, Thanksgiving and Dec. 24, 25 and 31.

Located at 461 Piquette Ave. in Detroit, the museum expects to receive 40,000 visitors from around the world in 2023, a record since renovations began. The plant is also available for private events.

Contact Mark Phelan: 313-222-6731 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan. Read more on autos and sign up for our autos newsletterBecome a subscriber.

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