Federal Center South, Bldgs. No. 1201 & 1206, Seattle, WA

NOTES: In the General Information on page of this report, only the size and dimensions of Building No. 1201 are noted. The following data is provided for Building No. 1206:

Total Floor Area 6,545 square feet
1st Floor Area 5,740 square feet
Occupiable Area 5,015 square feet
Stories - 1
Perimeter 350 feet
Depth 62 feet
Height 30 feet


The site of Federal Center South (FCS) is a wedge-shaped property, presently consisting of nearly 46 acres in Seattle's south industrial area, with approximately 46 acres located along the Duwamish Waterway and East Marginal Way South. The 33-acre site contains GSA Building No. 1201 (WA0953KC) and GSA Building No. 1206 (WA0956KC) that made up the original 1930-1932 Ford Motor Company's Seattle Assembly Plant. The property also contains a new building recently constructed for the Seattle District Headquarters of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which replaced two non-historic former structures a warehouse (former Buildings 1202, WA0954KC), and small parking facility (Building 1203, WA0955KC). The new USACE building, which is situated to the northwest of Building No. 1201, opened in early October 2012. On the east side of East Marginal Way South there is a large paved parking lot on the remaining 13 acres.

The original property was selected by the Ford Company due to its location, which provided easy access for shipping by rail, vehicle or barge transportation, and close proximity to Boeing Field (presently the King County International Airport), which was under development, and the Port of Seattle. In particular, Ford anticipated delivery of completed vehicles to local markets and to Japan and the far Pacific from his Seattle and California factories. Ford developed the site with construction of a dock, rail lines, parking lots, and an assembly building designed for efficient manufacturing, along with a low-bay warehouse, high-bay craneway, a boiler room, multiple internal drive lines and second floor offices above a display showroom and formal entry.

When the Ford plant was constructed it was one of few industrial facilities in Seattle South Industrial Area. This area, once part of a vast tidal basin, had been filled between 1913 and 1920, and the Duwamish River straightened and dredged to create a deep channel. The Duwamish Waterway, with numerous slips, was created to promote construction of docks for ships and barges. This municipal effort was followed by construction of a new Spokane Street Bridge in 1929-30, and later by a new bridge to the industrial area of Harbor Island, and West Seattle. A historic 1927 map by the Seattle Engineering Department of harbor conditions at that time indicated proposed construction for the Seattle Terminal and Dock Company on the site of the future Ford Plant. (This project was not realized.)

By 1937 a map of the Duwamish Waterway shows the two buildings that made up the Ford Assembly Plant along with a few smaller industrial businesses: Jordan Terminals at the east end of Slip No. 1 and Pacific Mills and Wharf on the south side of it, and the Woodruff Boyce Seed Company to the east in a small building across East Marginal Way South at Hudson Street. Other businesses within a quarter-mile included Hamilton Lbr. Co., General Furn. Co., Kieckhefer Container Co., Seattle Export Mill Dock and Lbr. Co. Further south there were several larger facilities of the Patterson McDonald Shipyard at Slip No. 2 and the Boeing Airplane Co. Warehouse, part of its Plant No. 1 near Slip No. 4. Ford's confidence in building its assembly plant in this area anticipated future development.

After Ford closed its assembly plant, it was acquired by the federal government for military use. The site was released to the Army as the Seattle General Depot, and remained under its operations until 1956. In ca. 1941 the Army added a warehouse (former Building No. 1202, replaced recently by the USACE headquarters.) The property was occupied and used by the Boeing Company after World War II for its missile production program from ca. 1957 to 1973, while the USACE remained a primary tenant in Building No. 1201. GSA acquired the Ford Plant property in 1973, and soon afterwards renovated Buildings No. 1201 and No. 1206 for use as offices, shipping and warehouse spaces, and a vehicle repair facility. The property also served as a central location for federal agencies in the Seattle area, which used its dock for shipping federal materials to Alaska.

The former Ford Assembly Plant / Federal Center South site is surrounded on the west and south by the Duwamish Waterway, a straighten portion of the Duwamish River, which leads north to Elliott Bay. The waterway is accessible from a 50' wide by 600' long dock structure along Slip No. 1 on the south side of Building No. 1201. The dock is made up by reinforced concrete pilings and a concrete structural slab, large painted steel bollards and cleats, and a heavy timber bull rail. Rail spur lines extend the length of the dock, and once connected to other lines on East Marginal Way. Historic photographs indicate the presence also of railroad spur lines running in a curved line from the north along the east side of the site. These lines are not extant. Building No. 1206, the original Ford Plant Oil House, is located at the front (east) of the dock. Despite its location, the small Oil House is clearly subsidiary to Building No. 1201, although they share a similar historical significance and many architectural features.

Early photographs indicate the site was not landscaped with exception of a row of slender conifers along the east facade, and other rows around the deep east setback from East Marginal Way South. Currently, this setback contains lawns, plant beds with ground covers, shrubs and flowering shrubs, along with trees and hedges set within a chain link fence that separates the site from two railroad lines and the street. A portion of this front part of the site presently contains fenced areas with play equipment that serves as an on-site daycare facility.

A concrete and brick paved patio, enclosed by brick masonry walls and metal gates, is situated at the north end of Building No. 1201, where it is accessible from a cafeteria within the building. A visitor parking lot is situated to the east of the patio, while larger parking lots for tenant personnel are placed to the north of it. The main pedestrian entry to this building, on the south side near its northeast corner, is emphasized by a non-original addition -- a brick-clad Modern style pedestrian shelter that resembles a large porte cochere. The building is protected by the perimeter fencing and gates, the masonry terrace walls, along with large concrete planters.


Federal Center South was designed by architect Albert Kahn as a Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant. Building 1201 expresses the recognizable features of his daylight factory type: a large rational, flat-roof structure made up by repetitive bays, with a linear layout based on assembly line production that provided flexibility and the opportunity for future expansion; integration of flexible electrical, mechanical and conveying systems; a complex building section with monitor roofs to provide ample daylight from clerestories and skylights; and large windows along spanning between perimeter pilasters. The 424,341 square foot building is highly visible from East Marginal Way South, and the most prominent structure on the site of Federal Center South due to its size and scale.

The L-shaped building was made up originally by a 750 foot long by 320 foot-deep two-story assembly plant, with offices in the northern portion of the second floor, a long low-bay warehouse section to the west, and an attached 100 by 500 foot craneway (high-bay warehouse) along the south end. Within the northeast corner of the craneway section there was a discrete, 60 by 62 foot boiler room. Clear ceiling heights, from floor to bottom of trusses, were set at 14 feet in the approximate 120,000 square foot first floor on the east side of the structure; 29.5 feet in the adjacent, approximate 120,000 square foot low-bay craneway area to the west; 14 feet on the second floor office areas; 38 feet in the 45,450 square foot high-bay craneway warehouse, and 29.5 feet in the boiler room.

An auto showroom was located originally within a tall space at the northeast corner. Executive offices, made up by an open general office area and suite of individual offices, were situated on the second floor above the showroom. They were accessed from the original first floor lobby via a formal open stairwell with marble treads and ornamental bronze railings. The assembly production line and office areas of the original plant presently contain two-stories of offices and service spaces. Both floors have an overall length of 750 feet, and are made up by 31 bays, each approximately 24 feet-wide.

After GSA acquired the Federal Center South property it renovated building in 1973-1974 to provide government offices. While changes to the historic Ford plant had been undertaken by prior occupants, the GSA project resulted in a number of significant modifications to the design. Perhaps the most significant of these was the revision to the building's entry that accessed the plant from the north facade, which became an entry to a new cafeteria, along with expansion of the main entry near the north end of the east facade and the vestibule and lobby spaces. Access to the current main entry is sheltered by a large, imposing and Modern-style concrete and masonry porte cochere. As part of the new work, an original cast-iron marquee over the double doors at the building's original entry was removed. A less ornamental but original sheet metal canopy remains over the former washing bay at the west end of the north facade, at the original employee entry to the Ford plant. Other building entries, made up by aluminum framed glazed doors, and painted solid steel doors have been inserted into pre-existing and new openings on the east and north facades of the office sections, and in the west facade of the low-bay warehouse section.

While the present second floor was remodeled to serve largely as open office spaces, the first floor was partitioned into a variety of office, meeting, conference and service spaces, along with multiple corridor systems, a new entry lobby with vestibule, and a cafeteria. The new spaces were partitioned and received with new finishes, including painted gypsum wallboard, suspended ceiling systems with acoustic ceiling tiles, resilient flooring and carpeting, and resilient base. Ceilings throughout the office areas were lowered. Extensive roof monitor clerestories in the low-bay and the high-bay craneway were largely retained, but skylights in the former assembly spaces were closed and covered on the interior by ceilings. New artificial lighting was added by installation of extensive fluorescent fixtures, which were typically recessed into suspended ceiling tile frames.

Other exterior changes included removal and replacement of the original, multi-paned, steel framed industrial sash windows on the primary building facades. These original windows had nearly filled the openings between the spandrels, and floor and ceiling framing, and provided the large building with a fine pedestrian-scaled feature. The new fenestration included aluminum framed windows with three vertical and three horizontal frames in each opening. The frames contain double-glazed window units in the lower frame section and opaque spandrel panels in a stepped composition at the middle and upper frames, which considerably reduced interior daylight. This fenestration was an effort also to modernize the historic buildings appearance, but to the detriment of its original character.

The original boiler room, located at the southeast end of the structure is a tall, single volume that retains most of its original character, including original industrial sash, steel frame windows, interior painted brick and tile finishes, along with some original plumbing and mechanical equipment. A prominent, 8 foot-diameter steel cylinder chimney rises 80 feet from the roof of the boiler room.

The present warehouse sections of the former Ford Company Assembly Building are strikingly original in character. The low-bay warehouse is a storage area that runs continuously along the west side of the original assembly area. This section exhibits the exposed steel trusses, column and beam structure, complex sawtooth-shaped roof monitors, sloped skylights, steel sash industrial windows and clerestories of the original design. In some areas, the overhead electrical drop cords and suspended HVAC units recall the systems of the original buildings storage and shipping functions. Most of this space still functions as a warehouse, with the exception of an area near the north end, where it has been subdivided and adapted as a fitness facility. At the far north end the original washing bay remains, presently used as a vehicle storage space.

The south-end high-bay warehouse section also retains most of the original character of the Ford plant. This tall, 100 foot by 500 foot area was constructed for operation with a craneway. It rises to a height of 38 feet, and is oriented with its length parallel to Slip No. 1 of the Waterway. As with the low-bay warehouse portion, this space is characterized by its open space, exposed steel framing, and sloped skylights set in a complex sawtooth monitor roof. Due to its placement on the site, the south end warehouse is structured with a concrete slab and piling foundation.

The exterior of Building No. 1201 includes brick walls and reinforced concrete and brick pilasters. The building is clad with wheat-colored, glazed brick with articulated brick dentils below the second floor window sills. It has stone sills, and stone parapet caps along the flat roof parapets, and granite trim. Ornamentation includes brick soldier and denticulate courses, and panels of varied brick masonry patterns.

Throughout a number of subsequent re-roofing projects, the original tile roofing has been retained on most of the building's sloped roof areas, while flat roofs have been re-roofed. Under a recent project the flat roof areas were re-roofed in 2010 with a "cool system" consisting of additional insulation, roofing membrane and a white-colored waterproof cap sheet, along with integrated photovoltaic solar panels.


The original Ford Factory Oil House, Building No. 1206 (WA956KC), is a single-story structure situated southeast of the original Assembly Plant. The 62 by 113 foot, 6,545 square foot structure was built to store heating fuel and had a capacity of 206,500 gallons. The present building contains a non-occupied basement, and is connected to the primary building by a 240 foot-long access tunnel. The building, oriented with its sides parallel to East Marginal Way, is set at the inner end of the Slip No. 1 of the Duwamish Waterway. It presents a very simple, almost archetypal form -- a rectangular mass with a gabled roof clad with dark red, cement composite tile.

Much smaller than the Assembly Plant, Building No. 1206 shares many of the larger building's architectural features. Exterior walls are constructed with the same 8 inch-thick unreinforced, wheat-colored brick masonry with cast stone trim and a capstone at the parapets. A circular, cast stone decorative element is placed flush with the masonry at the gable end walls. Windows include industrial sash consisting of painted steel frames set into the masonry, with multiple, true divided light units and single pane glazing, and newer anodized aluminum-framed units with simpler sash patterns, which date from the 1973-74 renovation project. The windows feature fixed and operating awning sections. Similar to those on Building No. 1201, the newer windows are in poor condition.

The structure is made up by 62 foot-long steel trusses, constructed from angle and plate stock with welded sections, with pre-cast concrete tile panels serving as infill between the structural steel purlins. The building is supported by a 24,465 square foot dock structure, constructed of 18 inch-square, reinforced concrete pilings and beams and a 9 inch-thick, reinforced concrete slab. The north portion of the building's first floor level is raised approximately three feet above grade to provide access to the concrete loading dock at the north end and part of the east side. Exterior steps to the loading dock are made of cast-in-place concrete with painted metal pipe handrails and guardrails. On-grade access to the building is provided at doors on the east and south sides.

The present interior dates largely from the 1970s. As part of the project the former boiler spaces were made into offices. The ceilings throughout were lowered, and finished with an acoustic tile system, while concrete panels from the original construction have been retained in the roof trusses above. The floor level at the southern portion is set at near grade, while the northern portion is set above at the loading dock level. An internal steel staircase was installed to connect the two floor levels.

New partitions were installed to provide both open and enclosed offices, and a kitchen area, restrooms and service rooms created. Interior finishes presently consist of painted wallboard and plaster walls, and carpet, resilient tile, and exposed concrete. Unfortunately, at least one wall in the northeast office appears to have been sandblasted to expose the texture of the common red brick wall infill material; cue to moisture infiltration this wall area is in poor condition and the bricks are spalling and show evidence of efflorescence. Typical lighting is provided by surface-mounted and recessed fluorescent fixtures.

Most of the original exterior features of Building No. 1206 have been preserved and it retains most of its original exterior appearance. However, the original clay roofing tiles have not been repaired; they are aged and covered with grime and a block-colored substance. Much of the brick masonry and cast stone trim is in poor condition, showing evidence of poor prior repairs as well as more recent damage, with spalls and cracks, and general grime. Damage is clearly visible at the southeast corner where it appears that the building has been hit by vehicles. Considerable efflorescence, indicating moisture trapped within the perimeter walls, is visible on the interior, particularly along the exposed brick masonry walls in the northwestern most office area. Leaks from the roof parapets have been an ongoing problem, resulting in rusted window frames and damaged window caulking in addition to damaged interior wall boards. Roofing repairs and replacement projects have been proposed, but at an estimated cost of $400,000, the re-roofing project has not been contracted.


Building No. 1201 was the Ford Motor Company's main assembly plant on the site, while Building No. 1206 was originally a service and storage structure known as the Oil House. Underground pipelines and tunnel connect the two buildings. Because of its size and scale, Building No. 1201 has always visually dominated the site. However, the former Assembly Plant and the former Oil House were designed and functioned as a single unit on the historic Ford property, and they share historical and architectural significance as a single building assembly.


The Ford Assembly Plant was designed by noteworthy American architect, Albert Kahn (1866-1942). Kahn was an influential designer of industrial buildings. At its peak in the late 1930s, his firm was the largest architectural firm in the world, employing a staff of over 600. By this period Albert Kahn & Associates reportedly had produced designs for over twenty percent of the industrial buildings constructed in the United States.

Kahn was born in Rhaunen, Germany, near Frankfort in March 1869, the first son of Rosalie and Rabbi Joseph Kahn. Due to precarious economic conditions the family moved to Luxembourg briefly and then to the U.S., setting in Detroit. Albert Kahn's formal education ended before he was thirteen years old, when he left school to go to work to help support his family. He then began an apprenticeship at the age of fifteen in the Detroit architectural firm of Mason and Rice, rising to the level of lead designer from 1884 to 1891. During this period he was awarded a scholarship from The American Architect and Building News to spend a year of self-study in Europe.

In 1891 Kahn left Mason and Rice for an independent practice in 1891. In 1895 he refused an offer from the renowned Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, and established a firm with associates George W. Nettleton and Alexander B. Trowbridge. The company was short-lived, with Nettleton suffering an early death in 1900 and Trowbridge returning to Cornell University to teach. In 1902, Albert Kahn established the firm of Albert Kahn, and Associates, Inc. The firm's early industrial design work was conventional, but expressive of the emerging structural technology of concrete. Engineer Julius Kahn, the youngest of Albert's brothers, soon invented and took out a patent on a unique system of concrete reinforcement that was adopted through the country and then in Europe due to its construction efficiency.

Albert Kahn's involvement with the auto industry design began with the 1903-1910 Packard Motor Car Company Plant in Detroit, which he developed with Ernest Wilby. Other design projects quickly followed for new factories in Michigan and New York, including an innovative single-story plant for Pierce Arrow Plant in Buffalo or 1906, which organized the entire work process on the same floor. This was followed by the Ford Motor Company plant in Highland Park of 1909, on which he applied the same concept.

Kahn's skill at integrating structural engineering with architectural design is evident in his buildings for General Motors as well as those for Pierce Arrow and Packard, but it was his lengthy and well-recognized association with Henry Ford that resulted in his most significant work, creating new industrial buildings for new production methods. His designs of the Ford Company's River Rouge Plant in Detroit (1917-1939) may be the most clear architectural expression of Henry Ford's business genius in creation of the assembly line. This plant features all of the distinctive characteristics of what was to become as Kahn's factory type: an exposed, rational structure, and a linear plan which allowed for seemingly limitless extension; the complex, multiple sawtooth-shaped roof profile that provided for balanced, natural lighting through a variety of skylights; integration of flexible electrical, mechanical, and conveying systems; and expansive exterior windows that revealed and illuminated the work within. These same features are embodied in the Seattle Ford Assembly Plant, currently GSA's Federal Center South Building 1201.

Non-industrial work by Albert Kahn included private residences, apartment buildings, churches and temples, primarily in Detroit and its surrounding area, as well as educational buildings for the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. These include the Detroit Athletic Club (1915), Detroit Free Press Building (1913), and skyscrapers for General Motors (1922) and the Fisher Company (1927). In the 1930s, Kahn's firm designed and constructed over 500 factories in the Soviet Union, and hangars in the U.S. and elsewhere. During World War II his design innovations included standardized construction elements; rapid, sequential scheduling; and time-saving steel framing details. In 1943 the War Department recognized his firm's special contribution with a Certificate of Commendation.

Albert Kahn's legacy is represented by the over 2,000 building designs and the production methods of his firm. His lasting impact is a unique form of American Modernism. During the Depression and World War II, the American factory became a symbol of success, capitalism, working class pride, and patriotism. Kahn's functional approach to Modern architectural design is set in this context. Transcending ideology and style, his design work was an expressive union of architecture, technology, and production. Over 60 buildings or buildings assemblies designed by Albert Kahn and Associates, Inc. have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Among these properties are the Ford Motor Company plants in Omaha, Cleveland and Cincinnati Plants; the Ford Motor Company Edgewater Assembly Plant in Bergen, New Jersey; the Ford Motor Plant, Louisville, in Jefferson, Kentucky; Ford's River Rouge Complex, Highland Park Plant, Valve Plant and General Motors Building, all in Wayne, Michigan; and the Pierce Arrow Factory Complexes in Buffalo and Erie, New York. Kahn also designed a number of historically and architecturally significant buildings at the Cranbrook Academy, in Bloomfield Hills and a residence of Edsel and Eleanor Ford in Macomb, Michigan.

The Ford Motor Assembly Plant near Richmond in Contra Costa County, California, with nearly 500,000 square feet, is the largest assembly plant built by the Ford motor Company on the West Coast. Built in 1930, it was cited in a National Register nomination as one of Kahn's signature daylight factory designs. The original building design was strikingly similar to the Seattle Assembly Plant. The Richmond Ford Company Plant was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 1988 in recognition of its historical and architectural significance, and the assembly building was successfully rehabilitated in 2008-10 as a historic adaptive use project, which achieved LEED Gold Certification and gained recognition through AIA design awards. Presently know as the Craneway Pavilion, the building presently serves the office and production needs of a variety of commercial companies. Its high-bay warehouse space was transformed into an event center and performance space.


Building 1201 dominated the Ford Factory site as the office and production facility, and it still dominates the Federal Center South complex in South Seattle. Building 1206, the former Oil House, remains a smaller service building to the south. Built in 1930-32 as the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant, Federal Center South was designed originally by architect Albert Kahn. A world-renowned architect famous for many early 20th century industrial buildings that anticipated the Modern movement in American architecture, Kahn designed buildings for the Ford Motor Company for over 30 years. Kahn and Ford together are credited with revolutionizing the manufacturing process through the realization of the assembly line.

Architect Albert Kahn's designs are celebrated for their innovative, and his industrial buildings are clearly responsive to their functions and advancement of efficient manufacturing processes. His daylight factory designs for the Ford Company's Assembly Plants are characterized by exposed steel structure, linear plans, sawtooth roof profiles, operable clerestory windows, generous column spacing, and judicious placement of subfloor utility lines. These features were developed to allow assembly-line production; flexible departmental layouts to permit rearrangement and expansion; unobtrusive elevators, restroom, lockers and stairs to serve the plants employees; ample daylight to augment artificial light; and natural ventilation. Kahn described his architectural practice as 90% business and 10% art, and his work emphasized efficient means and low costs of construction, and ease of maintenance. Federal Center South's Building No. 1201 embodies the distinctive characteristics of Kahn's work, and represents advanced construction methods for its time period.

Ford's Seattle's Assembly Plant was born out of the economic boom of the 1920s, an era that was characterized by the automobile industry. It was built at a pivotal time when industry was not only a symbol of employment, but also patriotism. In addition, the history of this Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant in Seattle represents national economic trends ca. 1920-1940.

The Ford Company opened a sales and service branch in Seattle, at 19th Avenue (East) and (East) Mercer Street on Capitol Hill, in 1909. The company subsequently built a new five-story assembly building at Fairview Avenue (North) and Valley Street near the south edge of Lake Union in 1913. The complex provided over 119,950 square feet of floor space, along with a power house, loading platforms, and garage, and had rail spurs that linked it to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company lines. One source suggests that the multi-story factory Ford built (presently a storage facility and locally designated landmark) was the company's first regional assembly plant. Its production capacity resulted in assembly of up to 125 Model T cars in a typical 8-hour day. In 1916-17 Ford opened branches for a short period in Spokane and Tacoma, Washington.

By the early 1920s, Ford had abandoned multi-story plants as inefficient in favor of linear, single-story factories. Production of the Model T ended in 1927 to be replaced by the Model A, which was manufactured between 1928 and 1931. During this period Henry Ford had become a proponent of decentralization and regional manufacturing, and placed his sights on new markets in Asia.

Announcement of the new Ford factory and regional distribution center, to be built on a 32.75-acre site at 4735 East Marginal Way (South) in south Seattle, was made in the mid-1920s on the heels of the automobile industry's record year. Ford secured and developed the site, and bids for the estimated $3,200,000 plant were called for in October and November 1930. (The City of Seattle building permit dates from December 1930, but designers at Albert Kahn Inc. Architects continued with construction document revisions until late July 1931.) By the time bids had been let and construction begun, Ford had announced that he wished "construction work (to be) gotten underway at the earliest practicable date, to benefit Seattle wage earners," according to historian Frederico Bucci in his book, Albert Kahn: Architect of Ford. Furthermore, "Ford pointed out that this is in accord with President Hoover's campaign for winter employment." A contemporary business journal reported in 1931 that, due to the plant's construction, Seattle's previous building records for factory construction in any single year were shattered.

The general contractor for building the Ford Plant was Clinton Construction of San Francisco. (Clinton reportedly had built the Ford Assembly Plant in Richmond, California, around the same time.) Many subcontracts went to local companies, including Jorgenson and Company for ornamental bronze work, Wallace Bridge and Structural Steel for part of the steel fabrication, Pacific Door and Manufacturing for millwork, and West Coast Wood Preserving for creosoted Douglas fir block floors. Additional jobs were generated by the continued dredging on the Duwamish River, which become known the Duwamish Waterway, along with improvements to East Marginal Way South.

In the spring of 1931, inspired by the huge construction project in the midst of the poor economy, the City of Seattle ran two pages of advertising in the Saturday Evening Post, which told "several million people that there is a young, progressive city out west that is carrying on despite (the) nationwide business depression." Announcement of the factory's completion was made in late January 1932, but the start of production was delayed "60 to 90 days," perhaps because automobile consumption had declined to a record low or perhaps because of some hindrance to the power production. (The photograph in the 1931 advertisement showed the building's roof, but without the boiler exhaust stack. This was an indication that the boiler and the assembly plant were not yet operating.)

Soon afterwards the company transferred its operations from its Lake Union facility to the new assembly plant. Assembly activities began in May 1932, with production of 250 cars that month. The plant's full capacity, cited by the company, was set at 300 assembled vehicles in an eight-hour day, with an additional 60 truck capacity and 120 closed and open auto body capacity in a 16-hour day. Consistent with its data analysis, the company reported in a February 1932 plant questionnaire the length and speed of the chassis conveyor, body mover chain, and enamel stock conveyor. Ten conveyors, each 140 feet-long, provided a finished body storage capacity, in addition to interior storage, for 20 completed Lincoln models. In July of 1932, an open house was held for the public to witness the "famous assembly line in action" and the production of four cylinder cars, trucks and "the new V-8 cars." J.C. Donnelly served as the plant's first manager, overseeing peak employment estimated at 2,000 workers.

Ford would not have built the $4,000,000 facility had he foreseen the Great Depression, which began with the stock market crash in October 1929. By the end of 1930 the nation's automobile industry had declined by more than 25%, and it continued to fall the following year. In 1931 the Ford Motor Company suffered a reported loss of $53,000,000. Eventually only about 2,000 Model A vehicles were produced in the Seattle plant before it ceased operations in November 1932, after which the plant became a sales and service facility. The company's manufacturing presence in Seattle was relatively short, in spite of the fact that national automobile production increased slightly from 1933 to 1938. By April 1939 the chassis conveyor, motor storage conveyor, frame storage conveyor had been removed, the enamel stock conveyor paint re-circulating system partially removed, and the finish body storage capacity reduced by half. With the onset of World War II Ford gave a number of its closed plants to the federal government, including the Seattle property. Its ownership was transferred in 1941, but Ford continued to have a presence on the site with its parts distribution until March 1942.


Following a National Register eligibility study in 2002, the historic Ford Motor Company plant buildings at Federal Center South were determined eligible for listing in National Register of Historic Places by the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. Building No. 1201 was determined eligible under National Register Criterion A due to its national significance in revolutionizing a significant manufacturing process, expanding automobile ownership, and illustrating the growth of national corporations, and for its association with the industrial development of Seattle within the national economy; and under Criterion C for its architectural innovation, and as one of the few examples of architect Albert Kahn's work in the Seattle area. Building No. 1206 was determined eligible under Criterion A for similar reasons as the primary building. The period of significance cited in the nomination, 1931-1937, was identified as corresponding to period when the original Assembly Plant was constructed, owned, and operated by the Ford Motor Company.

In August 2013 a National Register nomination for the two building assembly was reviewed and approved by the Washington State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The nomination was forwarded subsequently to the Keeper of the National Register.


Description Architect
1930 1932 Original Construction as Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant Albert Kahn
1958 1959 Warehouse No. 1, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Depot Harmon Pray & Detrich, A&E
1960 1961 Reassignment from Boeing Plant No. 2 Missle Production Center
1973 1974 Fed. Center South, Bldg. No. 1201 CE Alts. Phase II GSA PBS
1979 Heating & Cooling Modifications David Fukui Architect & Woods & Assoc.
1980 Telephone System Upgrade
1981 Foam Roof Insulation, Bldg. No. 1201
1981 Window Replacement
1981 Renovation and Improvements, Cafeteria Remodel, Bldg. No. 1201
1982 Parking Lot Repairs & Steel Window Replacement, S. Portion Bldg. No. 1201
1982 1983 Federal Center South, Plans for Renovation, Bldg. No. 1201 GSA
1984 Roof Repairs, Bldg. No. 1201
1988 1989 Federal Center South Day Care Center, Bldg. No. 1201 GSA PBS
1990 Federal Fitness Center, Bldg. No. 1201 Church-Suzuki Architects
1990 1991 Furnishings, Carpet & Paint, & Electrical Upgrade, Bldg. No. 1201
1993 1994 Federal Center South Office Upgrade & Modification CNJJ Architects
1995 HVAC Verification & As-Builts
1997 HVAC Modifications, Bldg. No. 1201 James Tsang
1997 1998 Roof Replacement, Bldg. No. 1201
2005 Main Lobby & Entry Vestibule, Terrazzo Replacement, Bldg. No. 1201
2010 Roof Replacement, Insulation, & PV Panels on Flat Roofs, Bldg. No. 1201
2010 2012 New USACE Headquarters (Bldg. No. 1202)
Last Reviewed: 2021-08-20