Most Checker Cab fans are familiar with the storyof the early days of Checker production in Kalamazoo. Morris Markin combined his Markin Auto Body business in Joliet with the Chicago based Commonwealth Automobile Company. He combined the two companies into one single operation and moved the whole company to Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Perhaps the most important part of the history of Checker was the ability of Markin to acquire both: The Handley-Knight auto assembly plant and the Dort Automobile body assembly plant. The two operating plants were located on Pitcher Street in the indstrial district..
By 1928 Checker was truly a transformed company. The introduction of the 1928 Model K was the first clean sheet Checker Cab. All previous cabs, the Model C, H, F and G were all based on the original Commonwealth Mogul design.
There were major changes at Checker in 1928 with a truly new model, the Model K. An advanced, modern design for its day, it was now a purpose built taxi with luxurious town car styling cues. The body was integrated in its design bumper to bumper.
Consistent with previous Checkers, the Model K utilized a 127-inch wheelbase and the Buda six-cylinder was now the only engine available. Upon its introduction in October, taxicab operators fell in love with the car and orders came piling into Kalamazoo. By month’s end there were over 4,800 orders. By January 1929, 950 units had been produced and sold. At the end of January, over 8,000 Checkers were chasing fares in New York City, a city with a total population of 21,000 cabs. This made Checker one of the two dominant taxicab builders in the US, the other being Yellow Cab Manufacturing.
Checker was clearly in a period of expansion and a new plant was required to progress with Markin’s expansion strategy. Despite the depression of 1929, Markin was clearly was still intent with moving and growing the company forward. Markin would execute a new program starting in 1929 to build the new factory body plant . The man picked to design the building was Albert Kahn of Albert Kohn Associates.
Albert Kahn was the foremost American industrial architects of his day. He is sometimes called the “architect of Detroit”, designing such major industrial works as the Ford Rouge plant, the largest in the world when built; as well as skyscrapers and office buildings in Detroit, and mansions in the outlying Detroit suburbs. He built a practice with hundreds of architects; in 1937 his firm designed 19 percent of all architect-designed factories in the U.S.
In 1895, Kahn founded the architectural firm Albert Kohn Associates Together with his younger brother Julius Kahn, he developed modern construction techniques: reinforced concrete replaced wood in factory walls, roofs, and supports. Kahn’s brother Julius also developed numerous improvements to reinforced concrete. This material gave better fire protection and allowed large volumes of unobstructed space. Kahn first deployed the innovative design in 1903, when the Packard Motors plant was built. It still stands today
The success of the Packard plant attracted the interest of automobile industrialist Henry Ford in Kahn’s designs. Kahn designed Ford’s Highland Park plan, begun in 1909, where Ford consolidated production of the Model T production and perfected the assembly line.
In 1917 Kahn designed the massive, half-mile-long Rouge Complex in Dearborn. The Rouge was developed as the largest manufacturing complex in the United States and, in its time, in the world. Its workforce peaked at 120,000 workers.
Kahn designed the 28-story Art Deco, Fisher Building in Detroit, now a designated landmark and considered one of the most beautiful elements of the Detroit skyline. In 1928, the Fisher building was honored by many professional architecture societies as the year’s most beautiful commercial structure. Between 1917 and 1929, Kahn designed the headquarters for all three major daily newspapers in Detroit.
In late 1929, Kahn would start construction of Checker Cab Manufacturing’s largest and most modern plant. Built behind the earlier Dort plant and the human resources office, it was a multi-story building, sort of a scaled down version of the Packard plant.
The Checker body plant would be completed in 1931, just ahead of the Checker Cab corporate melt down of 1932. The plant was consisted with all previous Kahn factories, it was just bult on a smaller scale. Unlike the massive plants Kahn built for Ford and Packard, it had a capacity of about 10.000 cars a year. A two story operation, the plant had an extensive conveyor system, stamping sections and a body drop.
This plant would serve as Checker’s main point operation for almost the next 80 years. The plant was featured prominently in all Checker promotional material. Used till the end of operations in 2009, the plant would be shuttered at the end of bankruptcy in January 2010.
Unfortunately, the plant no longer viable for manufacturing the plant was raised between 2015 & 2016.
Check out the video taken back in 2009