Have you ever heard of “Chevy in the Hole”? I had never heard of this until I started doing my research for this week’s blog. If you are or were a Flint resident or a General Motors employee you probably are familiar with this term.
Chevy in the Hole is the nickname for what was once the Chevrolet Flint Manufacturing complex in Flint, Michigan, the birthplace of General Motors. What’s left of the site is located on N. Chevrolet Avenue, just south of Kettering University. The complex originated around 1913 and according to Wikipedia “The only remaining buildings are Building 35 and Plant 38. Building 35 (originally housing new-car delivery and, later, heat treatment) was donated to Kettering University (originally General Motors Institute) in 1996. After the addition of another floor and a new facade, it houses the university's Mechanical Engineering and Chemistry Center. Workers in Building 35 built the first Corvette prototype around 1953. Plant 38 (the Die and Engineering Center) opened in 1967, is still operated by GM and is known as Flint Tool and Die.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint,_Michigan_auto_industry
In late December 1936, Chevrolet Flint Manufacturing was the site of one of the most famous sit down strikes in American labor history. One of the main reasons for the strike was for the recognition of the newly forming workers’ union, the United Auto Workers, and to keep non-union workers from taking their jobs. They wanted to be able to bargain collectively with General Motors, instead of individually, to obtain better wages and working conditions. The strike lasted from December 29, 1936 to February 11, 1937, all the while occupying the plant.
I have not been able to verify why or how Chevy in the Hole got its name but I discovered a few theories. Some say the name comes from the fact that the factory complex is not only located in the valley formed by the Flint River but also topographically is situated in the lowest part of Flint. Others say the name may have something to do with an unspoken pecking order at GM. According to my reading, among the brands at GM, Chevrolet was at the bottom of the list. And still another theory is that some of these factories were “hell holes” to work in. They were very dirty and workers (even union workers) were treated poorly.
The site sits mostly vacant now but encouragingly the President of Kettering University, Robert McMahan has future plans for this property. The University is quickly becoming one of the biggest land owners in Flint and Chevy in the Hole is now owned by Kettering. One plan for the site is to build a new Student Automotive Research Area. The property has already seen some improvement with the addition of about 2000 newly planted trees.
According to Susan Schuch’s article “Kettering Becomes a Crusader for Flint” on mLIVE.com, Kettering’s plan is to buy properties and land surrounding the University with the hope of rehabilitating the area. Any abandoned structures will be demolished and for now be converted to ‘green’ areas by being seeded and maintained. “’Our mantra is to make University Avenue walkable. And to make that happen we have to do something about it,’ McMahan said, adding that connecting to downtown is the next step. ‘It really does snowball once you get started.’” http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2013/09/kettering_university_emerges_a.html#incart_river_default
I hope Kettering’s plan succeeds in helping revitalize Flint. Maybe they will spur other businesses, corporations and residents to envision their neighborhoods in a better light and work together towards a common goal. Hopefully Chevy in the Hole will not be a ‘hole’ in Flint’s landscape for much longer.