With the first-ever Toledo Jeep® Fest coming up in August 2016, it’s worth revisiting the destruction of one of the first buildings to go at the former Willys-Overland site in central Toledo: the former administration building that cut quite a figure along Interstate 75. Stately. Imposing. Extremely narrow! It couldn’t help but be noticed.
Toledo landmarks have met varying fates at the end of their useful lives. They have gone up in flames (Tiedtke’s, for example). They have been demolished (Southwyck). They have been struck by runaway freighters (The Fassett Street Bridge). The Jeep Administration building met a much more dramatic fate when it was imploded in 1979.
The site of the old Jeep plant, part of which dated to the turn of the 20th century, has had its buildings demolished and the land cleared. The stately administration building was the first to go.
The building was in use from 1915, when it was built under the watch of John North Willys for the Willys-Overland Company, through 1953, when Kaiser Motors purchased it and it became Willys Motor Company, through 1963 when it became Kaiser-Jeep, into 1970 when Jeep because a subsidiary of American Motors, until 1974. At one time the building had 900 employees working in various functions such as the corporate headquarters, design, engineering, marketing, accounting and finance, but only had 200 employees by the time it was shuttered.
The seven-story building was built for $200,000 and was only part of a $2 million building program undertaken by the company over one hundred years ago.
Willys said when the building was built, shortly after he moved the company to town and took over the facilities of the bankrupt Pope Motor Co., that it was a symbol: Willys-Overland was in Toledo to stay. But Jeep had a number of reasons for disposing of the building when they announced the building’s impending doom in February of 1979:
– It was obsolete
– They needed the land for parking
– It needed a new heating system
– It had sat empty for five years
– They couldn’t sell it
– They couldn’t give it away
So, with very little fuss (if any) I could find from preservationists or even people remotely sentimental about the building, an estimated 4,000 people gathered in the general area of the building on Saturday morning, April 14, 1979, to watch the implosion – which, of course, was when the sentimentality began flowing.
Here’s the site today, between Jeep Parkway and the Ottawa River.
The archives of the public library are well-stocked with photos of this iconic, official-looking building.
This Blade story from 2002 states that the above photo is from the Toledo News-Bee’s files. It also says that Willys didn’t pronounce his name as “willies,” but “willis.”