Over the course of a century or so, most commercial buildings will witness numerous businesses come and go. In fact, it’s not uncommon for an old building to change its function entirely over time. Sometimes old houses become new offices, run-down gas stations live on as cool diners, and derelict factories turn into character-filled residences.
As car enthusiasts, one of the coolest redevelopment opportunities in recent years may be taking place in the small town of Fleetwood in eastern Pennsylvania. Nestled in the countryside between the historic steel towns of Allentown and Reading, a 115-year-old brick factory is transitioning into new apartments. Notably, it’s the very factory that once built bodywork for the world’s finest cars in the earliest decades of the automotive industry. Coachwork for Cadillacs, of course, but also Rolls-Royce, Packard, Dusenburg, Mercedes-Benz and others rolled out of the Fleetwood Metal Body Company.
And now you can live a slice of that history in your own living room.
Being redeveloped as Fleetwood Lofts, the two remaining buildings of what was once a much larger factory complex (before a 2006 fire) are undergoing a major renovation. Situated adjacent to an active railroad line, the current owner/developer is investing in soundproofing the buildings for comfort. This includes framing new apartment units up to a foot inside the original brick structure to insulate for both sound and climate. The goal is to retain as much of the original character as possible while providing modern living amenities.
Work is still in the early stages but very much under way, and there are already tenants in the smaller two-story building. The eventual plan is to create more than 100 units in the upper two stories of the larger building. The ground floor will be reserved for local businesses such as coffee shops, restaurants, or other retail spaces.
In 1925, Fisher Body Company (already part of General Motors) acquired Fleetwood Metal Body Company. Just five years later, it integrated Fleetwood’s manufacturing into Fisher’s Detroit facilities. Owing to the company’s legacy of building bodies for some of the world’s most prestigious carmakers, Cadillac eventually capitalized on the Fleetwood name. It first appeared in 1947, but was prominent starting in the 1960s when Cadillac promoted itself as “The Standard of the World.” The last Cadillac Fleetwood model was built in November of 1996.
The building itself, like so many other older factories, remained a legacy of the past, but has stood the test of time. It’s exciting to see that story live on for a new generation of people who’ll have a chance to live in such a storied location.