The Ford Rotunda

December 12, 2009

The Ford Rotunda – Dearborn, Michigan, photographer unknown

Michigan in Pictures regular Matt passed an email about the Ford Rotunda along that had some cool pictures I thought folks would like to see. When flames consumed a Christmas fantasy from the Detroit News Rearview Mirror begins:

From 1936 to 1962, the gear-shaped Ford Rotunda attracted visitors from around the world. It was the fifth most popular tourist destination in the United States in the 1950s.

The building had its roots in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, known as the Century of Progress Exposition, which opened in May of 1933 and attracted more than 40 million visitors over its two-year run. One of the major attractions at the fair was Ford Motor Company’s Rotunda, which was disassembled after the fair and brought back to Dearborn, where it was reconstructed using more permanent materials. Designed to be the showcase of the auto industry, the Ford Rotunda was opened to the public on May 14, 1936.

…In 1960, the Rotunda ranked behind only Niagara Falls, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Smithsonian Institution and the Lincoln Memorial as a national tourist destination. It was more popular than Yellowstone, Mount Vernon, the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty.

Read on for the sad tale of how it burned to the ground on November 9, 1962.

Television History – The First 75 Years might be the photographer – there’s some of the same shots there and they write about their parents taking them to see Santa during the Christmas Season at the Rotunda. They also have a nice aerial of how the Ford Rotunda was located in relation to the Rouge Plant.

11 Responses to “The Ford Rotunda”

  1. Jack Says:

    This plus the cool pics bring back great memories and some astonishment (5th most popular?!). And an idea: why not, as part of the Cobo renovation, convert the Arena’s exterior into a modern replica of the Rotunda look? Its round, too, and nondescript — the “gear” look, on the riverfront, as part of the facility that houses the NAIAS event every year, is perfect.

  2. Karen Fear Says:

    I was just writing a thank you note for some hockey tickets that I received, telling them that I hadn’t been to a game since the olympia stadium. Then I started thinking about the Rotunda, which was one of the most beautiful buildings that I can remember back then. My memories are great of this building and my parents took me there for Christmas along with the old Murray’s Department store on Michigan Ave. I wish that I could experience this with my grandchildren it was a wonderful time. Why have we not replaced this building, instead we’re raising money for a RoboCop statue!

  3. Ron Says:

    I’m an old Detroit boy (born and raised) and remember my parents taking me and my sister to the rotunda every Christmas. Remembr the animation and train sets. Loved those little theaters that showed cartoons.

  4. Betty Says:

    Does anyone remember the cartoon about the bears that were sweeping and cleaning. They were singing and dancing to the beat of a song as they bumped their rear ends together.

    My parents took us to see a program around Christmas time and I remember seeing that cartoon. I was wondering if it is available on line. I’d love to see it again. Betty

  5. Doris Hale Says:

    I visited Mom (85) a few weeks ago. I said her grandchild had another field trip soon. She got all animated, telling me about my first school field trip. ‘Your class was going to see the Ford Rotunda Christmas. You talked about it for days before going. Next day, the kitchen radio said Ford Rotunda burned down. She and dad were in shock. They didn’t want me in school that day, but our entire family went to Coho Hall Auto Shows.


  6. i so loved the Ford Rotunda. Does anyone remember the long path up to see santa clause? It went up on an incline and at the top was santa and down at the bottom was a real reindeer. Gosh i wish that were still around.

  7. Stan Rakowski Says:

    In 1962 I was working for Continental Insurance Company as an insurance adjuster. I was informed that our company insured the roofing company who caused the fire. This was my first major fire loss.

  8. Vikki (Swenders) Says:

    The Rotunda holds great memories for me. My father and mother took my sister and I there every year until 1960. My father had surgery at the VA hospital early that year and a doctor’s mistake left him in a coma for 8 years. I think my father enjoyed the Rotunda more than us girls did. He was always so excited when it came time to go see Santa. The memories from the singing choir, the hundreds of dolls, and the animated scenes will forever be strong in my heart. How sad, when it was destroyed. Thank you Dad!


  9. What I enjoyed as a young boy was the model train set that was set on an angle and the miniature trains would travel around the set.

  10. Mary Trombley Says:

    I remember going up that long incline to see Santa. It was a magical place!


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