Smokestacks at the old Jeep plant have a date with a wrecking ball next week, but historic preservationists who sought to save the Toledo landmark have won a partial victory.
Owner DaimlerChrysler AG plans to keep one of the three stacks carrying the name "Overland," which is one of the city's last visible links to the Willys-Overland automotive empire of the early 20th century.
They are visible to motorists on I-75, and are one of Toledo's most recognized landmarks. They are circa 1920 smokestacks.
Demolition of the other two stacks, which are attached to the factory's former power plant, will begin Monday morning. Company officials have invited reporters and elected officials to an event at 10 a.m. in a park at Willys Parkway and Hillcrest Avenue that occupies the site of the factory's former test track.
The firm has provided few details about what will take place, but advised news organizations that it will be their "final chance to capture the three smokestacks together against (the) Toledo skyline."
DaimlerChrysler is billing the gathering as a chance to "commemorate Jeep history" near the site of the former plant, which closed last year after 96 years and 11 million vehicles. When World War II began, Willys, along with Ford and a small car-maker in Indiana, won contracts to produce military Jeeps.
Willys-Overland took its name from owner John North Willys and from one of the firm's most popular early models.
The plant had been America's oldest operating car factory, but is now mostly demolished. Production of Jeep Wranglers moved to a new $2.1 billion supplier park nearby.
Also Monday, the company will announce a plan to sell individual bricks from the demolished smokestacks as souvenirs. Proceeds will go to charity.
Katie Zuchowski, a company spokesman in Auburn Hills, Mich., declined to confirm details of the event.
But Steve Katich, staff director for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D.,Toledo), said he has been told that the company will keep one of the smokestacks.
Miss Kaptur, who has urged the firm to preserve the stacks for their historical value, has tentative plans to attend the event. Mr. Katich said the stacks are an important reminder of Toledo's critical role in World War II.
But the smokestack's reprieve may be only temporary. The 111-acre factory site at Central Avenue and North Cove Boulevard is for sale. And any buyer likely would have a say in whether it stays or goes.
Ron Szymanski, unofficial historian at the now-demolished plant where he worked for many years, will be sorry to see the stacks go.
"That's history," he said. "It would be something nice to commemorate the 359,000 Jeeps built there during World War II."
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