Cass Motors/Dalgleish Cadillac/Carhartt Store

Cass Motors/Dalgleish Cadillac/Carhartt Store

5800 Cass Avenue in Detroit's New Center Area

The picture you see here is outdated.  It is now, in 2016, an attractive retail building.  I hope to add a new picture soon.

In the first decade of the last century, entrepreneurs in almost all cities with any industrial base realized that the vehicle industry might be a source of great income.  Quite a few of those who ran machine shops or other industrial operations tried to produce cars.  A few succeeded.  The Nordyke-Marmon firm was founded in Indianapolis in 1851 to produce grinding equipment, apparently for mills in the Midwest that processed agricultural products.  In 1902, that firm experimented with the production of a gasoline-powered car.  Their experimentation continued, and in 1909, the firm was selling Marmons.  Two years later, a car produced by Marmon won the first Indianapolis 500 auto race.  At this time, quite a few firms in Indiana were trying to succeed in the auto business so it is no surprise that the Indianapolis race was organized to highlight that state’s new and then rapidly growing industry.

Over the ensuing years, Marmon designed and produced a variety of motor cars in Indianapolis.  I infer that they were not tremendously successful but they were a reasonable well-known Midwestern manufacturer.  I believe they wanted to make expensive—and highly profitable—models that would compete with Packard and Cadillac, but they did not have great success.  Indeed, Marmon got into financial trouble in the mid-1920s and was reorganized in 1926 as the Marmon Motor Company.  The new management wanted to sell a powerful new model and decided they would market a 16-cylinder car.  They faced challenges and their lead engineer on the project was recruited by Cadillac.  By 1931, Cadillac was selling a 16-cylinder model but it was not really a regular production model.  They were special order cars and Cadillac sold no more than about 5,000 of them in the 1930s.  Marmon, in the meantime, also designed a low priced car that was about one step up from the Ford Model A.

Perhaps to increase their sales in Detroit, the Marmon dealer erected a building on Cass Avenue.  In the 1920s, many of Detroit's prosperous elite lived in attractive, expensive homes on both sides of Woodward. This dealer wished to build an impressive edifice, so he selected an Art Deco style for this building constructed in 1928. Expenses were not spared since an elegant terrazzo floor was installed. The striking Art Deco approach to architecture was briefly popular in the US in the 1920s. The Cass Motors building is one of the better examples of Art Deco found in Detroit. The best place in the US to see a huge array of well-preserved Art Deco building is in the South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach.  This building also reminds us of how the marketing of autos changed.  I presume the first floor was a sales room, while the second and third floors were used for repairs and parts storage.  After World War II, almost every new dealership was located on one level in the suburban ring where land was readily available.

Similar to many other firms, Marmon motors did not survive the Depression.  They were able to produce a 16-cylinder car in 1933 but that was their final year in the automobile business.  But the firm survived.

After ceasing to produce cars, the firm was reorganized as Marmon-Harrington and lives on.  They made and make components for the vehicle industry.  The name Harrington comes from a Colonel Arthur Harrington who joined the firm after serving in the military.  He apparently saw a need for a very tough four-wheel drive military vehicle.  For quite a number of years, the firm assembled such trucks for the military.  In the early 1960s, some portion of the firm was sold to a Dallas entrepreneur who reestablished the name Marmon Motors and sought to build high-end trucks.  From 1963 to 1997, you could purchase a Marmon Truck to pull your rig. It is quite unusual for a firm to quit the auto business at one point and then, thirty years later, a surviving component of that firm builds trucks.   Apparently Marmon Trucks was no more successful in challenging the high end truck market that Marmon cars had been in challenging Cadillac and Packard three decades earlier.

A surviving part of the firm of the Marmon-Harrington firm was sold to the very successful and prosperous Pritzker family from Chicago.  Penny Pritzker served her nation as Secretary of Commerce in the second term of the Obama Administration.  In 2007, the Pritzker holding company sold Marmon-Harrington to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire-Hathaway.   Marmon-Harrington is still in the vehicle business making component parts for trucks.

In 1935, the Dalgleish family acquired the building you see here and used it as the home of their Cadillac dealership.  Four generations of that family participated in the business.  Just as the Depression put the Mormon dealer here out of business, the recession of 2008 put an end to the Cadillac dealership.  That is, once General Motors entered bankruptcy they had the prerogative of closing dealers.  About one thousand dealerships were closed across the country including Dalgleish which shut its door in fall of 2010.  You can no longer buy a new Cadillac from a dealer in the city where the firm was started.

The Carhartt business was founded in Detroit in 1888 to manufacture durable apparel for railroad workers.  With headquarters now in Dearborn, this privately held firm continues to produce clothes in the United States and abroad.  With downtown and midtown Detroit experiencing something of a demographic and economic boom, Carhartt decided to open a retail store in the increasingly bustling Cass Corridor.  The building was completely renovated and now serves as their largest retail store in Detroit.  Interestingly, this is another vehicle manufacturing firm that failed but survives.  With many Detroit entrepreneurs trying to prosper by producing cars, Mr. Carhartt who founded the clothing firm, did not want to miss out.  He went into the auto business in 1910 and produced a few cars at a plant located, I believe, near East Jefferson and Baldwin.  Apparently, his vehicles were well reviewed but did not sell well.  I have read that no more than fifty Carhartts were assembled and that none of them survive.  Carhartt decided to get out the car business before he lost his entire fortune.  He returned to the successful clothing business and, more than a century later, the enterprise he created found an attractive Detroit home in a former Marmon dealership.

This building deteriorated in the years it was empty, but was carefully restored by Carhartt. It was designed by one of Detroit’s most accomplished architects who worked in the Art Deco mode; Charles N. Agree.  Among his most famous accomplishments are the Vanity Ballroom on East Jefferson at Newport,  the Harper Theater on Harper; the Belcrest Apartments on Wayne’s Campus, the Grande Ballroom on Grand River and quite a few stores for the Winkleman and Federal department store chain. The north wall of this Carhartt building faced the I-94 expressway.  With the renovation underway and Detroit becoming a city of mural, the firm commissioned artists to paint a mural, based on Diego Rivera’s image of workers at Ford River Rouge plant, of workers wearing Carhartt clothing.

Architect:  Charles N. Agree
Date of Construction: 1828
Style: Art Deco 
Use in 2016: Carhartt store
Website for Marmon-Harrington:
Website for Carhartt:
Mural on north side of building facing I-94 Expressway:  Kelly Golden and Jordan Zielke of Golden Sign Company with James Noellert and Michael Burdick
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
Michigan Historical Register: Listed April 29, 1986
National Historical Register: Listed April 29, 1986
There is no visible historical marker on this site.


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