A Burning Loss

November 11, 2015

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The Ford Rotunda building burned to the ground on November 9th 1962. Though there were no major injuries, the fire destroyed more than just a structure. The Rotunda was an iconic attraction; drawing more visitors during the 1950’s than the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, and Yellowstone National Park. It showcased Detroit’s auto industry at the peak of its prosperity and was a cultural epicenter for the region.

Completed in 1933 and designed by Albert Kahn, the Rotunda was initially located in Chicago for the World’s Fair before it was relocated to Dearborn in 1936. Styled to look like a stack of gears, the cylindrical 130 ft. tall limestone clad building was used to introduce Ford’s latest models like the Continental and Edsel, held press events, and hosted car shows. Rotunda was also the starting point for the Rouge Factory tour; and its inner walls were covered in murals depicting Rouge’s assembly line. For Ford’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, 50 birthday candles were mounted and lit along Rotunda’s outer rim

Celebrities, world leaders and millions of people from around the world visited the Rotunda. Hall of Fame inductees Henry Ford, Edsel Ford, and Ernest Breech roamed the building. The Rotunda was also where Henry Ford II first met a group of young army officers that became the Whiz Kids. Rotunda was best known for its annual Christmas Fantasy, which treated millions to dazzling displays of life size Nativity scenes, elaborate displays of Santa’s workshop, and a 37-foot-tall tree.

The Rotunda was an important cultural symbol with an influence went beyond its automotive significance. Going to the Rotunda was a tradition for many families much like going to the Fox theatre for a Christmas special or touring the Rouge Plant. A symbol of Detroit’s golden age, its departure left a void in the hearts of millions who had visited.

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