Warren Motor Car Company

1331 Holden near Detroit’s New Center Area


Much of what I know about this auto producer comes from Beverly Rae Kimes and Henry Austin Clark’s Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942. In 1855, Homer Warren was born in Shelby Township in Macomb County. He moved to Detroit and prospered as a real estate broker. He was also active in the powerful Michigan Republican Party and, in 1903, served as treasurer for that organization. I believe that he was also appointed Postmaster for Detroit which was a typical reward for faithful party activists in that era.

In the first decade of the Twentieth Century, prosperous individuals in industrial town stretching from Springfield, Massachusetts in the East to Indianapolis in the Midwest presumed that there was fortune to be made in the emerging vehicle industry. In 1909, Homer Warren assembled a firm that included a former general manager from the long-established R. E. Olds company and an engineer who had briefly worked for the new Hudson firm. He secured financing to build the two-story brick plant on Holden that you see pictured above. At this time, Albert Kahn was using structurally reinforced concrete to design more modern plants with large windows to capture light, but the architect for the Warren building selected an older style. Impressive brickwork adorns the front of the building. As was true for all plants constructed at this time, rail lines were nearby, including a siding from the Michigan Central located directly along the east side of this factory.

Similar to many other start-up vehicle firms of that era, Warren Motor Cars suffered from:

Warren began building thirty horsepower, four cylinder roadsters in 1909. Using a strategy that Henry Ford employed almost a decade earlier, the Warren firm raced these cars successfully, bringing favorable attention to his firm. Because Warren had no distribution system, the entire output for 1910 and much of the 1911 production was sold to a Philadelphia firm for retail distribution. Although such a sales strategy seems odd today, it was used from time to time in the early auto industry. Studebaker had been selling wagons across the nation for almost five decades when they entered the car business, so they were, perhaps, the only producer with a national sales system. Unfortunately for Homer Warren, the Philadelphia firm went broke before they sold all the cars they intended. The line-up of products was substantially changed for 1912 in hopes of reaching a different market. The firm moved away from sporty roadsters and turned out more costly, sedate and, presumably, reliable models with formal names: the Resolute, the Pilgrim and the Wolverine.

The vehicle business has always been extremely competitive and Warren was not very successful, so the company was financially reorganized in late 1912. They brought out another new set of models for 1913, but the financial and sales challenges swamped the firm and by the end of 1913, Warren was out of business. So far as I know, Homer Warren never again entered the vehicle business although he lived until 1928.

I believe that the Warren Building on Holden was used by at least two other auto firms. Harry Lozier led an exceptionally successful firm in the 1880s and 1890s that produced excellent bicycles in Toledo and Cleveland. Just before the bicycle craze of the 1890s broke, Lozier sold his company for four million dollars. In 1902, he established the Lozier Motor Company in Plattsburgh, New York. He won fame for turning out a small number of extremely high quality, extremely reliable and expensive automobiles. Lozier also raced his cars with much success. By 1910, Detroit businessmen and investors recognized the success of Packard and Cadillac in producing and selling expensive, high quality cars. They wanted to challenge those firms for the silk-stocking trade and convinced Lozier to move his small firm to Detroit where he could greatly increase production and capitalize upon the skills of Motor City engineers. Indeed, they arranged financing for Albert Kahn to design a modern two-story plant on Mack near St. Jean at the Detroit Terminal Railroad. Unfortunately, that structure no longer stands, but pictures of it suggest a modern looking, spacious plant. Lozier produced excellent cars in Detroit, but Packard and Cadillac were ready for the challenge. Lozier kept increasing the quality and cost of their cars. Indeed, in 1912 they produced a model that used real gold for ornamental striping. Auto theft must not have been much of a problem then. In 1914, Lozier introduced a new four-cylinder model designed to outperform Cadillac, but at a price similar to Cadillacs. Shortly thereafter, Cadillac nimbly decided to hit back and introduced the first V-8. There were severe managerial conflict within the Lozier firm and they went into receivership. In 1915, new owners purchased what was left of Lozier and moved into the former Warren Motor Car on Holden. In terms of facilities, the shift from Albert Kahn’s modern Mack Avenue plant to this new but older style Holden factory was quite a come down. Financially, Lozier did not prosper in their new location and, by 1919; the firm was once again in bankruptcy. The Lozier name had cache and new owners tried to revive the firm in the Standard Truck Building that still stands on Bellevue. They also failed but Lozier did not die a quick death. In 1922, a New York City firm tried unsuccessfully to revive Lozier.

Henry Leland developed the Cadillac Motor Car company from the ruins of Henry Ford’s second auto firm. He sold Cadillac to Billy Durant in about 1909 who was assembling General Motors but Durant forced Leland and his son out of Cadillac in 1917. At the outset of World War I, the major combatants presumed that airplanes would be very important for victory, but none of them had successfully used planes in warfare or for commercial purposes. Not to be left behind, the US military more or less designed Henry Leland to be the designer and developer of aircraft engines. They ordered 6,000 and put up ten million dollars. Leland not only designed aircraft engines, but began building the huge plant at West Warren and Livernois that survived until 2004. World War I ended before airplanes were effectively used. In 1920, Leland decided to produce a line of expensive, high quality cars and chose the name of the first person for whom he cast his first presidential vote, Lincoln. I presumed that Leland made Lincolns exclusively at the Warren and Livernois plant, but I have read that the Warren Motor Car plant was also used by Lincoln at some point.

The building you see was built by speculators taking a chance in a new industry. A much less glamorous new industry has emerged in this country in the last decade: earning profits from the recycling of the tons of products we discards annually. The Warren Motor Company is now home a firm in this new industry: Recyclean.

Architect: Unknown to me
Architectural Style: Pre- Albert Kahn factory
Date of construction: About 1910
Use in 2006: Detroit location for the Recyclean Firm
Photograph: Ren Farley; March 18, 2006
Website for current occupant: www.recy-clean.com
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Date of preparation: March, 2006

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