Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it


This sprawling complex on East Jefferson Avenue near the foot of the Belle Isle bridge was built in stages and designed by different architects.

The Morgan & Wright Bicycle Tire Co. was founded in Chicago in 1891 by Fred Morgan and Rufus Wright, but relocated to Detroit in 1906 in order to take advantage of the city's fledgling automobile industry. The company's claim to fame was its double-tubed and quick-repair tire, the latter it patented in 1894.

Work on the first phase of its Detroit plant started in August 1905 and was turned over to Morgan & Wright on Aug. 3, 1906. The plant would grow to be, at one time, the largest tire manufacturing facility in the world. The initial architects on this project were Rogers & MacFarlane (principals James S. Rogers and Walter MacFarlane). Albert A. Albrecht Co. was the contractor.

From the start, the plant employed 750 people and produced 350 tires each day.

In 1906, company President Samuel P. Colt said, “Judging from the past, the growth of the automobile tire business will be of momentous importance in the future. Ten years ago, rubber tires were not important. Now they consume one-half of the raw unprocessed rubber product.”

The plant made a variety of tires, including "Nobby" tread (slogan: "The knobs will stop your skidding"), "USCO" tread, "Chain" tread, "Plain" tread and "Royal Cord." Around 1912, Morgan & Wright became a division of the United States Tire Co.

In 1920, construction began on an addition along East Jefferson. Albert Kahn was the architect on this expansion, with Ernest Wilby serving as associate. Lockwood, Greene & Co. were the engineers on the project.

In 1958 or '59, the Michigan Stove Co. plant located next door to the east was demolished, allowing for the tire plant to expand yet again.

U.S. Rubber became Uniroyal in 1961, and continued pumping out tires along East Jefferson and the Detroit River until 1980, when the facility closed. On Sept. 10, 1980, the City Council unanimously authorized that the City bought the Uniroyal plant with $5.6 million in federal funds. Uniroyal also would receive $1.2 million in relocation costs if the City's offer was accepted. The City was competing for the 40-acre piece of riverfront real estate with Samaritan Health Centers, which also made an offer to buy the site for a new hospital that would combine the facilities of St. Joseph Mercy and the Deaconess Hospital unit of the Samaritan Health Center.

The closed plant sat for five years until being demolished in 1985. The site sat undeveloped because of large amounts of pollutants in the ground.

More on this building coming soon.