Just a couple years short of its centennial anniversary, the longtime home of the Fred Jones Manufacturing Co. is being considered for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building, 900 W Main, originally home to a Ford Model T assembly plant, was built in 1916 and the register listing is being sought as part of preparations to convert the property into a 21C Museum Hotel.
Photos not viewed by the public in decades, if ever, and provided by the Ford Motor Co. and the Henry Ford estate provide a glimpse of how the plant was a vital economic development for a city that hadn’t even existed 30 years earlier.
The application, prepared by Elizabeth Rosin and Rachel Nugent with Kansas City-based Rosin Preservation, notes much of the plant is as it appeared when it was first opened. Rosin and Nugent’s application provides an intriguing history of the plant, one that shows just how important it was during the city’s early years.
The plant was designed by Architect Albert Kahn, who also drew up plans for about 1,000 facilities for Ford, as well as the home of Edsel and Eleanor Ford.
The assembly plant was one of 24 regional assembly plants designed and built between 1910 and 1915 to accommodate what was then an unprecedented expansion of the Ford Motor Co.’s assembly process across the country.
The company itself was just hitting its stride, having started out with production of the Model A in 1903, followed by the roll-out of the model T in 1909. Henry Ford, constantly looking to increase production efficiency and make cars affordable to the masses.
Two dozen cities were chosen to become regional assembly plants that would receive “kits” of car parts by train that would then be assembled and painted for distribution throughout the region. Oklahoma City and the other communities were largely chosen for their “freight break point” — the point on the rail line after which transportation costs increased. Oklahoma City’s plant was deemed by the company to be one of most valuable properties due to centralized location in relation to downtown business district and nearby rail lines.
The two-acre site was previously home to a steam laundry, a bottle-works, and a farm implement warehouse.
Two railroads, St. Louis & San Francisco Railway and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway, had lines running through the area.
The plant started operations in April 1916, though the formal opening took place Aug. 11 of that year. At the peak of operations, the plant’s 1,400 employees assembled 200 cars a day.
One of those joining the assembly line when it was first opened was 24-year-old Fred Jones, who moved to Oklahoma City from Georgia. Jones quickly learned the business and became a leader in sales, service and parts production. He opened a dealership in 1922 and began reconditioning parts for his service department in 1938, which then led to creation of the Fred Jones Manufacturing Co.
The assembly plant, meanwhile, ceased car production in 1932 during the depth of the Depression and a change in how Ford manufactured cars. Ford continued to operate the plant as one of three slow-moving parts branches, serving the Midwest region until 1967. Ford employed 115 people supplying 200 dealerships throughout the region.
Ford ended operation of the plant in 1967 and sold it to Fred Jones, whose family used the building as a parts and distribution center until last year.
The building design by Kahn was fashioned after Ford’s famous early day Highland, Mich., plant.
“The Oklahoma City Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant retains excellent integrity,” Rosin and Nugent said. “The building remains in its historic location in a commercial and industrial setting just outside Oklahoma City’s downtown business district. The property retains the exterior features industrial architect Albert Kahn designed to communicate its historic function as a manufacturing facility.”