Saving face

Saving face

Original West Side Wright Factory to be preserved

 By Leo DeLuca

The President of the United States continues to recognize Dayton, Ohio as the “Birthplace of Aviation.” In 2009, Barack Obama signed an act to expand the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park to include the Wright Company factory – the oldest aircraft manufacturing facility in existence.

Built between 1910-1911, the West Dayton factory spawned the world’s first airplanes and changed the world as we know it. Shortly after, Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever (1912) and Orville Wright sold the company (1915). In 1919, General Motors purchased the building and changed it to an auto manufacturing facility. GM, Delco and Delphi occupied the Wright factory until they ceased operations in 2008.

Home Avenue Redevelopment, LLC recently acquired the historic building’s title. The LLC is affiliated with Hull & Associates – an Ohio-based project development and engineering company. I spoke with Vice President Brad White about the acquisition of the factory.

How did you go about acquiring the Wright Company factory? 

Our business is to acquire and redevelop brownfield sites. We do a lot of work in the city of Dayton, including the University of Dayton redevelopment of the NCR property. We were aware of the availability and historical significance of this property and approached the owners in 2011 to discuss an acquisition. –Brad White

While Home Avenue Redevelopment owns the site, the United States National Park Service will oversee the preservation and remediation of the facility. The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park is currently working on ownership structure and funding for the landmark factory. I had the opportunity to speak with DAHNHP Superintendent Dean Alexander and park historian Ed Roach:

Do you know why the Wright Company chose the West Dayton location for the factory?

The Wright Company chose the west Dayton location for several reasons: it was available (the land was platted for residential development but had not been built upon by previous owners), it was close to the streetcar line running along West Third Street and it had convenient railroad access that the company could use to ship airplanes to their destinations.

What role did the Wright Brothers play in relation to the factory? Did they oversee operations at all? 

Wilbur, the Wright Company’s first president, died in May of 1912. Orville Wright was one of two vice presidents (New York financier and former New York Giants owner Andrew Freedman was the other), and he became president after his brother’s death. Both brothers maintained their personal offices at their old bicycle shop at 1127 W. Third St., and did not maintain personal offices at the factory.”

Both of the men who the company hired as the firm’s general manager, Frank H. Russell (1910-1911) and Grover C. Loening (1913-1914), found both brothers micromanagers resistant to taking advice from others. Neither brother worked the factory floor. Wilbur spent much of his time from 1910 to 1912 in courtrooms, pursuing patent infringement lawsuits (especially against the company of New York aviator Glenn H. Curtiss), and Orville was more interested in training pilots at the flight school the company operated at Huffman Prairie.

In 1914, facing a revolt of some of the New York financiers who had invested in the company, Orville acquired personal control of most of the stock and began to entertain offers from others to buy the company. He finally sold it for $500,000 in October of 1915.

Do you plan to restore the facility back to its original design, outlay and appearance?

Right now we are at the first step in preserving and restoring site, which is to get ownership transferred to the National Park Service or one of our non-profit partners. Once that step is achieved, then there will be a planning process to look into the alternatives for all of the topics you listed in your question. Only once the alternatives are researched, will decisions be made about the treatment of the buildings. The core structure of the buildings is pretty much intact, but the spaces between the buildings were enclosed, non-historic structures attached and steel columns added to support machinery GM used after it took over. The plans will look at the feasibility of accurately restoring the space to the original as-built condition, cost of restoration versus rehabilitation and the advantages or disadvantages of removing usable enclosed space will need to be weighed in the planning process.

What are your plans for the facility? 

Like the building restoration question, we will also need to prepare a plan for the uses of the buildings and put it out for public review. My best guess is that some of the space, probably the original Wright Company buildings (the 1910 Building 1 and the 1911 Building 2) will be used by the National Park Service for museum exhibits about the Wright Company and the beginnings of America’s aviation industry. It is also a roomy space for education programs the park will conduct.

For the rest of the space, we would like to find non-profit or educational partners to make use of the buildings for other activities that further the overall missions of Dayton Aviation Heritage NHP and the National Aviation Heritage Area.

The restoration of the Wright Company factory further illustrates Dayton’s claim as the rightful birthplace of aviation. The timeline for completion will depend on ownership structure and funding and the Dayton Aviation NHP projected it will not be finished for a few years. When it is, do make sure to head on out and witness this historic landmark.

For more information on the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, visit www.nps.gov/daav/index.htm.


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