Standard Motor Truck Company/Letts Industries Building

1111 Bellevue, bordering the now abandoned tracks of the Detroit Terminal Railroad

My knowledge of this building is limited. I believe that it was designed by Albert Kahn and constructed for Standard Motor Truck in 1912, but it may have been a few years after that. I have read references to the chain-driven trucks that were built by this firm, but I have not tracked down much information about them or their date of demise. Usually, I am able to locate extensive information about the people and firms that occupied historically-interesting buildings in Detroit. This area, along the Detroit Terminal Railroad going northwest from Jefferson, was an important center for the new automobile industry since that rail line served not only Standard Motor Truck, but Hupmobile, Aerocar, Saxon, Hudson, Scripps-Howard and, quite likely, quite a few other neophyte auto firms. Hudson was the only one in this corridor that survived the Depression.

I have seen references to Standard Motor Truck building chain-driven trucks into the 1920s. During World War I, they apparently packaged the components for trucks and sent them to the Seabrook vehicle firm in London where the parts were assembled and the trucks sold under the Seabrook mark. That export business apparently came to an end with the peace of November 11, 1919. I do not know whether Standard Motor Truck merged with another producer, or went out of business with the onset of the Depression as many smaller producers did. In the 1920s, both GM and Dodge purchased several truck manufacturers as they shifted into truck manufacturing, so Standard Motor Truck may have been absorbed by a larger firm.

In 1989, Letts Industries, a supplier to the vehicle industry, moved into this building. This is an old firm. Its founder, Charles Letts, began supplying cast or forged metal products to Henry Ford’s firm as early as 1915. Indeed, their website proudly announces that Charles Letts personally delivered forging to Henry Ford, using a horse team. The Letts firm still occupies the second floor of this building. I exchanged interesting e-mail messages with Chip Letts who assured me that the firm was still there and observed that if you walked through this building, you would clearly see the design features that Albert Kahn incorporated for a truck manufacturer, including line shafts and tracks. He also assured me that the original 10,000-pound elevator is still working.

Architect: Albert Kahn
Date of construction: 1912 or 1917
Architectural style: First generation modern automobile factory using steel reinforced concrete
Use in 2006: Letts Industries
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Places: Not listed
National Register of Historic Sites: Not listed
Photograph: Ren Farley; July 10, 2005
Description: February, 2006.

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