The Ford Rotunda Dearborn, Michigan From Viewlinerltd

The Rotunda began when Henry Ford wanted his company to be featured in a show-stopping building at the 1934 Chicago Century of Progress Exposition. So he turned to his favorite architect, Albert Kahn—designer of the Highland Park Plant, the Rouge Plant, and the Dearborn Inn. 

Kahn was noted for his functional yet elegant architectural designs in Detroit and on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. He characteristically did not hone to one particular architecture style, but chose a style that best suited each building’s function.

Rotunda Christmas Wonderland Entrance TVHistory.TV

The Ford Rotunda in Dearborn was once the fifth leading tourist destination in the nation, ahead of such places as Yellowstone Park, the Washington Monument and the Statue of Liberty. Three-dimensional portrayals of the Nativity and 'The Night Before Christmas' were inside the Rotunda and Santa was on hand taking requests. Nearly 500,000 visitors saw the Christmas show that first year.

Christmas Fantasy Zoo from TVHistory.TV

With the Rotunda's modern design came a new lure for visitors: an annual Christmas display called the Christmas Fantasy, which first opened on Dec. 15, 1953. That first year, Donner, Blitzen, Prancer and Dancer were there, along with a 37 foot, 6 ton Christmas tree.

The next year, Story Book Land came to life, with Hansel and Gretel, Little Boy Blue, Puss in Boots, Little Bo Peep and Humpty Dumpty animated by machines performing around a vast Santa Claus castle. The annual Christmas Fantasy held during the Holiday season was partially responsible for the Rotunda's popularity, with nearly a half million people visiting during 1953, the very first year it was held.

A giant Christmas tree was always a spectacular thing to see, and the Christmas Fantasy became more spectacular each year.  Santa's Workshop formed the centerpiece, with Santa's elves building transportation toys on a miniature assembly line.

Sadly, the Ford Rotunda burned down on November 9, 1962, while the building was being prepped for the annual Christmas show. A waterproof sealer that was to be sprayed on the geodesic dome panels caught on fire. The company decided not to rebuild. Today, only Rotunda Drive in Dearborn serves as a reminder of this once-iconic and unique building.

The Christmas Fantasy was completely lost to the flames. All that was saved were the Christmas tree, which had not been put in place, the 2,500 Goodfellow dolls shown yearly which had not been delivered, and the miniature circus, which had been packed into trunks and was ready to move in.

Truly a very sad day in Ford history, and the sad end of a structure that was filled with many happy memories, and was one of the most famous buildings in the world during its time.

The official report from the fire department stated that the "Plastic dome on light aluminum construction over interior court of building collapsed spreading fire to combustible content (Christmas Fantasy display)."

The ground where the Rotunda was located stood vacant for many years, until the November 20, 2000 ground breaking of the Michigan Technical Education Center (M-TEC).

The Detroit News

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brian tourville said...

I see a '54 Ford !! :)

Pam Sherrock said...

Our family went there every year! We were always allowed to invite a friend to go with us............so looked forward to going every Christmas! Thanks for the memory..............

Patches said...

Oh My Gosh, you have no idea how the memories came back to me on this!
I was 6 year's old when I first went to the Rotunda with my Aunt Lena and my school class from Whittier Elem in Royal Oak, MI.
I thought I was one special little girl walking into a fanasty land where only good boy's and girl's were allowed. After that visit to The Rotunda, the Detroit Zoo came in last in my book.
My next special memorie of my childhood is going down to Hudson Department store on Woodward Ave in Detroit with my Aunt to see Santa.
I would have loved for my Daughter and Son to have seen The Rotunda and have had a visit with Santa at Hudson Dept. store. Oh how time has changed.

Fast Film said...

how the grinch burned Christmas... :-(

Michael McDaniel said...

I remember going there many times with my Dad. I thought it was so cool! I remember the fire as well Kim....so sad.

Katie Bashlor said...

Do you know about my group Kim? A lot of info about the Rotunda there. I'll get you a link...

Downriver Things That Are Not There Anymore!
Welcome to the best Downriver group on Facebook! Share and relive memories of people, places and things Downriver from Detroit, MI and in the surrounding communities. PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU "EDIT SETT...

Once you join the group, you can do a search for Rotunda and get a lot of 1st hand witness accounts. some good stuff.

John Neff said...

We used to go there every year when I was a kid.

Anonymous said...

Went there every year as a kid with my brother. Great Christmas fantasyland (Wee Willie Winkie was my favorite). Disney cartoons, all the new cars, and Santa. In Detroit, the real Santa was either at Hudson's downtown or at the Ford Rotunda. We went with the Rotunda Santa each year.

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