Moving Detroit: A Good First Month at U-Haul Moving and Storage of New Center; Part 1 of a Look Back at the Building

Sep 16, 2013

U-Haul Moving and Storage New Center 03

Business has been good the first month U-Haul Moving and Storage of New Center has been open. They’ve served more than 200 customers and this past weekend all of their trucks were out on rentals. Customer reviews also reflect the high quality of the service provided by General Manager (GM) Anthony Jones and his team (see customer reviews at the end of the post).

Now that the center is up and running, I thought I’d take a look back…to the building’s history and what we have accomplished over the past year to revitalize and restore the building.

In this post, we’ll take a top-to-bottom review of the building the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) built in 1920.

Building design features

NBC-Nabisco Building 1920 005

Adolphus Green (1843-1917), first chairman of the board and later president of the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) wanted factories that would have style and dignity to inspire loyalty from the workers and act as models of modernity to the communities in which they stood.

The Nabisco buildings were different from the common manufacturing buildings of the World War I era. Each of the new plants included showers and locker rooms for the employees as well as fireproof stairways and other up-to-the-minute fireproofing techniques.

Because of the heavy loads of the baking ovens, which were located on the upper floors and the desirability of keeping the columns small, steel with tile fireproofing for floor and column construction was used instead of reinforced concrete.

U-Haul NBC-Nabisco Detroit Building Stairs_balcony

The height of each story averages 14′, except on the baking floors, which average 22′ – one reason why the upper floors in the Kansas City, Houston and Los Angeles Nabisco buildings have been converted into lofts. The floors are of high-quality maple, 1.5” thick.

The elevators and stairs were placed along the walls so they would interfere as little as possible with the machinery and the use of the floors.


The fire-escape towers were located in the corners of the building, constructed to connect directly with the outside. They contain wide fireproof stairways leading to the street, accessed through open loggias or balconies on each floor. This was state-of-the-art fire-exit design at the time – preventing any possibility of smoke from entering the stairways.

The four towers were constructed above the roof. The pressure tanks for the automatic sprinkler system, as well as tanks for the building’s supply of water, were placed inside them. As a result, the tanks were protected from the weather, and could be easily inspected and cared for.

NBC-Nabisco Building Exterior arch and sign

The distinctive exterior of the building is faced with a vitreous brown-colored brick. The windowsills, lintels, band courses, cornices and ornamental features are enameled light-buff terra cotta, and the light vertical lines on the towers are vitreous white brick.

Seventh floor

When he commissioned the building of the National Biscuit Company baking facilities in the 1920s, Green went to great lengths to ensure that the working conditions were ideal for his people. For example, on the seventh floor was a restaurant where employees could purchase lunch, at cost, a men’s smoking room and a women’s rest and recreation room.

NBC-Nabisco Building Mixing-Room Hoppers in 1921Sixth floor

The sixth floor of the Nabisco building once housed the mixing and proving rooms and the bakery. The mixing and proving rooms were on the Forsythe Avenue side and opposite them was a row of nine ovens, which minimized the distance the dough had to travel from mixers to ovens.

Fifth floor

Originally, the fifth floor was arranged for the storage and renovating of cans, and also contained the machine shop, carpenter shop and the automatically controlled fans, heaters and coolers for maintaining a uniform temperature in the mixing and proving rooms.

Fourth floor

Back in the day, packing was done on the fourth floor, where pans of biscuits and cookies fresh from the ovens on the sixth floor were delivered onto packing tables.

Third floor

NBC-Nabisco Building 1920 3rd Floor Icing Area

The icing department was on the third floor. At the south end was a mixing room. The icing and deposit machines and the long traveling dryers that removed the proper amount of moisture from the goods to render them ready for packing occupied another part of the building. A carefully designed air-conditioning system was installed to make it possible to operate the dryers continuously under varying weather conditions. Another portion of the floor was given over to the packing of the iced products.

Second and first floors

Showroom Clamshell Bucket

The second and first floors of the building were used for receiving and shipping, and for storage of the finished product. There was a railroad siding at the rear that ran into the building and alongside a receiving and shipping platform at the second-floor level, thus affording protection from the weather and greatly facilitating the handling of materials.

Coal for the boilers and the ovens was received in bottom-dump cars and dropped directly through large openings in the track into separate bunkers extending under the entire receiving platform. From the bunkers, an electric, monorail-traveling hoist with clamshell bucket, which also ran into the boiler room, deposited coal once a day in the stoker hoppers. The oven coal was elevated directly to the firing platform on the fifth floor. Enough space was provided in the bunkers to hold a six-month supply of coal.

Boiler room area of U-Haul NBC-Nabisco Building Boiler room

The boiler room was 40 feet high, from the basement to the second-floor level. (The cathedral windows and fans on the ceiling provided ventilation.) The boilers and stokers were automatically controlled so as to maintain uniform steam pressure and a uniform water level in the boilers, with coal supply, air feed and dampening varied according to the demand of the boilers.


Flour, sugar, molasses and other raw materials were taken directly to the basement. Milk, eggs and butter used in the baking process were stored in a refrigerated room.

Forsythe Avenue

Forsythe Avenue was a broad, well-paved street owned by Nabisco. Wagons, trucks and railway cars were loaded and unloaded at shipping docks on the Forsythe side of the building.

Garage and stable

NBC-Nabisco Building 1920 001

Remember the tunnel we discovered? It once connected the main building to a one-story building across Forsythe Avenue that housed a garage and a stable and supplied that building with power, heat, light and water from the powerhouse. The building was 240 feet long and 122 wide and was capable of housing 80 wagons and automobiles, as well as 50 horses. The garage was equipped with a gasoline and oil system and had a separate repair shop. The same attention to detail in providing for employee working conditions was applied to the stable, where attention to cleanliness and safeguarding the health of the horses was paramount.

Before and after

In Part 2 of our “look back,” we’ll use before-and-after photos to recap our adaptive-reuse efforts over the past year to bring this great building back to life.

The reviews are in

Customers are giving GM Jones and his team high marks for professionalism, courtesy and service. Here are some representative unedited customer comments. Click here to view all of the reviews for U-Haul Moving and Storage of New Center.

Sandra C. on 9/10/2013
“Friendly, courteous… great customer service.”

 margarette d. on 9/10/2013
“So far so good for this location. Please keep up the good customer service, it’s very important. Nice clean renters.”

JOEANNE H. on 9/7/2013
“I cannot think of anything that they can improve upon, honestly this was the BEST experience I’ve had in a long time. From start to finish the interaction with the GM to the guys on the dock were exceptional! This will be my go to place for truck rentals or storage. Thanks U-HAUL New Center for a pleasurable and stress free experience.”

SHARON M. on 9/4/2013
“Brand new location was convenient.”

ZACH K. on 8/23/2013
“It was my pleasure to work with Sebastian and Keychon for the drop off of this move, they were extremely helpful and polite, whenever I am in Detroit this location will be my only choice for rental and drop off, its relieving to see employees go above and beyond the call for a customer, a quality that is less and less often seen. For being a brand new location they definitely have their heads on straight, and I look forward to doing business with them in the future, thank you for everything, guys!”

David B. on 8/23/2013
“Very friendly and professional staff. All my future rentals will be at this location.”

This blog was created to let the community know that U-Haul is in Detroit, and to share our plans with you and to get input from the community. We want to hear from you. Tell us what you like and don’t like about our posts, building plans or anything else you want to share about Detroit. We are excited to be part of the Detroit community and want to learn from you!


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