The commercial corridor along Saginaw Street and Oakland Avenue emerged primarily between 1900 and 1930, coinciding with the rapid development of residential subdivisions in the Westside, Old Oakland, and Englewood Park neighborhoods, and the growth of automobile manufacturing near the City of Lansing’s western border.
As nearby residential areas grew more densely populated, small business owners occupied newly-built commercial buildings. Most of these business owners lived in the surrounding neighborhoods, and their patrons were neighbors, too. The rapid growth of the Saginaw commercial corridor was mostly driven by nearby residential demand for groceries, meats, baked goods, and personal care services.
The Saginaw commercial corridor served as a nexus between Lansing’s bustling downtown and nearby neighborhoods, including the Westside neighborhood’s largely upper-middle income residents, and blue-collar laborers residing in Old Oakland and Englewood Park.
The City of Lansing was one of the last areas to be settled in Mid-Michigan, largely due to the lack of roadways in Ingham County. Until 1969, the Saginaw corridor and Northwest Lansing neighborhoods were relatively quiet. Oakland Avenue, for example, was not yet a major thoroughfare, and Saginaw was a two-way street that handled downtown Lansing’s traffic.
The Saginaw Street corridor remained vibrant through the 1960’s and into the 1970s, at which point federal government policies and social turmoil instigated a story that played out in cities across the U.S. as many residents fled the city for the growing suburbs. Most devastating to Lansing’s Westside was the conversion of Saginaw and Oakland to one-way thoroughfares. Now multiple lane, high traffic, one-way roadways, Saginaw and Oakland became unsafe for most pedestrians. Business owners struggled to create an inviting sense of place with the new traffic loads and high traffic speeds. The combination of white flight, redlining, and an emphasis on automobile-centric planning robbed the commercial district of its strong customer base of local residents.
Automotive Industry Presence
The corridor has long been home to automobile manufacturing. The corner of Verlinden Avenue and Saginaw Street was utilized for automotive manufacturing since the early 20th century, when auto pioneer R.E. Olds converted farmland into his Olds Motor Works plant. In 1920, Durant Motors built a factory on the site. And in 1935 General Motors purchased the site and added additional production facilities thereafter.
The Verlinden Ave site, later called the Lansing Car Assembly, or GM Plant #6, housed GM’s Fisher Body Division and was adjacent to a major General Motors production facility called the Lansing Craft Centre. The Craft Centre facility was originally built by GM as a foundry in 1919, and sat across Saginaw Street from another facility, the Lansing Metal Center, originally built as a jet engine manufacturing plant in 1952.
The Lansing Craft Centre was a specialized GM assembly factory. Located primarily in adjacent Lansing Township, the plant started production (as the Reatta Craft Centre) in 1987 and closed in 2006. At the time of its closure, the plant was 985,000 square feet in size, and employed 400 workers.
The Lansing Craft Centre was the construction site for low-volume vehicles like the General Motors EV1, Buick Regatta, and Cadillac Eldorado. The Craft Centre also produced the Chevrolet Cavalier convertible and the Pontiac Sunfire. Its final product was the Chevy SSR. On November 21, 2005, General Motors announced that it would close the Lansing Craft Centre in mid-2006. The final SSR, a unique black-on-silver model, was built on March 17, 2006. Many of the Craft Centre workers were transferred to the new Delta Township Assembly plant.
The Lansing Metal Center closed in 2006. Upon closing, the plant was 1,590,000 square feet in size, and employed 1,200. General Motors began the demolition of the plant in February 2008.
All three sites (Car Assembly, Craft Centre, and Metal Center) are now held by RACER (Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response) Trust, an entity created as part of the GM bankruptcy proceedings, to dispose of the company’s abandoned real estate. The trust took possession of 89 properties in 14 states on March 30, 2011; it is charged with cleaning up, positioning for redevelopment and selling them.