You may remember seeing two iconic Vernors bottle plants in Detroit between 1930 and 1985. What happened to those things?
A question about this came through our 4YI submission form, where people can just ask us about anything, and we try to find the answer. Peter asked, “When did the both Vernors plants close, first the one on the river, then the on Woodward Ave?”
Well, Peter -- it’s a bit of a long story. But we’ll sum it up. Let’s start from the beginning. Meet James Vernor (the namesake of Vernor Highway!)
Vernor was a pharmacist in Detroit before starting the soda company, Vernors, the oldest ginger ale company (so they say), first served in the U.S. in 1866. Fast forward three decades, after growing in popularity, Vernor closes his pharmacy and moves down Woodward to open a ginger ale counter.
At about the same time, according to Historic Detroit, his son, James Vernor II, stepped into the company. They bought the Riverside Power Plant -- which would become the company’s 10-story bottling plant on the city’s Detroit River skyline, including a giant Vernors sign.
Fast forward again, to the 1950s. The city was looking to redevelop the main riverfront area, which would become Hart Plaza, and wanted Vernors to move operations. They offered the ginger ale company a space up Woodward in Midtown, next to the Whitney mansion. It was formerly the city’s main convention center.
So that was the end of the riverfront plant. It was demolished shortly after the deal. But it was the start of the second plant, at 4501 Woodward Avenue, between West Canfield and Forest Avenue. After renovation and retrofitting, it turned out to be about 3,000 square feet larger than the old plant.
It was cherry-topped with a giant neon Vernors sign outside the plant, which was turned on for the first time on June 4, 1954, according to Historic Detroit, which notes that the sign generated so much heat from the lights, it had its own air conditioning system.
Vernors was passed out of family control in 1966, the company’s 100th anniversary.
And in 1985, Vernors announced it would be closing the Woodward plant, with the last day of production on Jan. 18, 1985. Production was moved to the suburbs.
The plant sat vacant for two years before demolition started in late 1987, continuing into 1988.
Nowadays, the site of the old plant is filled by a mixed-use development, with apartments (Studio One Apartments), retail and parking.