Historic Structures

Reo Motor Car Company Plant, Lansing Michigan

Date added: March 3, 2011 Categories: Michigan Industrial Auto Companies

The Reo Motor Car Company Plant, situated in an industrial area near downtown Lansing, consists of the only known extant and relatively little altered structures associated with Ransom E. Olds' successful ventures into automobile manufacturing. The most significant Olds-related remains here are the 1905 Office Building; a 1905 factory; the 1908 Engineering Building; a 1917 employee Clubhouse; and four other factory buildings constructed between 1905 and 1914. All are brick, sit on concrete foundations, have either flat or monitored roofs, and exhibit many original exterior architectural features. The only other known extant Olds structure is a much altered section of the Olds Gasoline Engine Works plant on River Street in Lansing. The Ransom Olds Mansion, once located not far from the Reo plant, has been demolished.

Shortly after he left the Olds Motor Works, Olds announced the formation of the Reo Motor Car Company and began construction of a factory, (Building No. 2) and office, (Building No. 1) on land which he had purchased previously in connection with his peat business. Within a year, the plant and office structures were completed, and as Reo's business increased, he expanded the size of his original plant by adding an additional story. Around the same time, he constructed three smaller factories (Buildings No. 5,6,7) adjacent to it and gradually increased them in size over the years. By 1908, the engineering building (Building No. 4), where Olds helped design a number of the company's models, had been completed. Six years later, he built another large factory, and in 1917 he completed a beautiful clubhouse facility to provide for his employee's recreational needs. Shortly afterward, however. Olds lost interest in automobile manufacturing and surrendered control of Reo to other individuals.

Office (Building No. 1).

Since its completion in 1905, this west-facing, two-story, rectangular-shaped, brick structure, measuring 50 by 100 feet, has served as a company headquarters.. In an office here. Olds made many of the decisions that helped make Reo one of the four largest automobile manufacturers in the United States by 1907. On its front facade, the edifice's walls feature slightly protruding brick pilasters at the corners and on both sides of a central pavilion. Sash-type windows are set in round-arched surrounds which feature radiating voussoirs of white-painted brick and have stone slipsills. The building is capped with a flat roof covered with tar and gravel and has an overhanging dentiled cornice. The doorway is marked by an overhanging entablature supported by flanking pilasters-all constructed of wood.

Inside, the structure has been extensively altered, and almost all original features have been covered over in numerous remodelings. Presently, it serves as office space for the firm engaged in liquidating the assets of bankrupt Diamond Reo Trucks, Inc. Although the building has been neglected somewhat in recent years, it remains in good condition.

1905 Factory (Building No. 2).

This three-story brick building, whose west end abuts the Office, is the oldest Reo factory structure. Originally a two-story edifice when completed in 1905, this 72-by-543-foot building was soon enlarged by the addition of another story. The structure rests on concrete foundations over a full basement and is capped by a tar-and-gravel-covered flat roof that is partially monitored at its west end. Exterior walls are of plain red brick set in American bond and are unadorned except for brick corbeling along the roofline. Doublehung one-over-one sash-type windows are set in rectangular surrounds capped by rounded stone arches.

Inside, this pioneer factory exhibits a number of original features. In the basement are the faint outlines of a small track used to move vehicles from one assembly point to another. Many original support posts and ceiling joists remain, although they have been reinforced with structural steel in recent years. Some area exhibit original flooring, particularly the wood block type typical of early automobile plants. Presently, this structure is stripped of most of its manufacturing equipment and stands vacant. Overall, its condition is fair.

Engineering Building (Building No. 4).

At its completion in 1908, this three story, brick structure, which stands a few feet south of the office, marked the height of Reo's importance as a major automobile producer. Olds probably planned some of his cars here, and over the years Reo engineers designed a number of beautiful cars and trucks within its walls. Somewhat irregular in its configuration, this edifice's exterior features string courses at the base of its first and second story windows, a heavy stone course at the base of the third story, a deteriorated wood cornice near its roofline, and a heavy roof pediment decorated with brick corbeling. Most windows are set in rectangular surrounds and are of the one-over-one wood sash variety. On either end of the front (west) facade, however, is a single window featuring a center-pointed Norman arch that sets off an arched entrance of similar design.

The interior has undergone a great deal of alteration over the years, and all engineering and design equipment. Including blueprints, has been removed. The recent removal of the acoustical ceiling for salvage purposes revealed an ornate pressed-tin ceiling that probably dates back to 1908. Presently this structure, whose condition can only be described as fair to good, stands vacant.

Clubhouse (Building No. 3).

This west-facing, two-story, brick edifice, with its gigantic veranda and dimensions of 72 by 192 feet, was completed in 1917 and might be regarded as Ransom Olds' farewell gift to his employees because it was about this time that he began to relinquish his control of the company. The building located north of the office, rests on brick foundations and has a partially raised full basement. Decorative effect is provided by continuous, narrow, white-painted stone beltcourses at the base of the first and second stories and a heavy stone beltcourse near the roofline, the use of circular windows in the area between this heavy stone course and the roofline, and a two-story gallery supported by square shaped brick pillars. Windows are of the one-over-one wood sash variety, are set in rectangular surrounds, and have stone slipsills. The structure is capped with a gravel-and-tar-covered flat roof and exhibits a plain overhanging cornice.

This structure was designed to provide Reo employees with a recreational facility, a meeting place, and a lunchroom, and it served this purpose until 1975. On the first floor is a huge ballroom, which until relatively recently housed a huge pipe organ. Other portions of the interior are divided into rooms of various sizes. The hardwood floors and dark wainscoting that are typical of much of the interior appear to be original. Overall, this vacant structure's condition can be described as good.

Factories (Buildings No. 4,6,7).

These factories, which are situated south of Factory No. 2 and face westward toward Washington Avenue, were constructed sometime between 1905 and 1919. A 1907 drawing shows them as two-story structures similar in design to Factory No. 2 but much shorter in length, while a 1919 artist's sketch shows them with their present dimensions. All are constructed of brick, have concrete foundations, and are capped with a combination of flat and monitored roofs covered with tar and gravel. First-and-second-story windows are generally double hung and set in rounded arches while those on the third floor are set in plain rectangular surrounds.

Inside, these structures exhibit some original wood flooring as well as original support posts and ceiling joists. All have been stripped of most of their machinery and stand vacant. Their overall condition can best be described as fair.

1914 Factory (Building No. 8).

This three-story brick structure is situated approximately 20 feet south of the Engineering Building, and its east end abuts Factories No. 6 and 7. No. 8 was completed in 1914 and exhibits a somewhat different architectural style than the earlier factories. Rectangular in its configuration, the edifice sits on concrete foundations over a full basement and is capped with a stepped-gable roof decorated with brick corbeling. Its most striking feature is the wall treatment on the first two floors. Projecting buttresses with concrete caps delineate wall sections and exhibit triple-hung windows in metal frames.

The interior of this structure, like those of the other factories, exhibits some original flooring, ceiling joists, and support posts. Almost all of its machinery has been removed, and it presently stands idle. Overall, its condition is fair.