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Last Days of General Electric in Fort Wayne

Since 1911, General Electric has occupied a sprawling industrial complex in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana. The campus stretches out several blocks east and west of Broadway, north of Taylor Street, and in 2014 there are 13 buildings still standing.

At its peak, the GE plants in Fort Wayne employed more than 20,000 workers. Most of them built electric motors, but over the century that they operated, the plants also produced a number of other types of electrical equipment, and a lot of research and development work was done here as well.

Over the years, GE gradually closed down the factories at the downtown complex, leaving the giant industrial buildings vacant. By 2014, the company had fewer than 100 employees in For Wayne, and fewer than 30 worked at the downtown campus. The company has announced that they will be closing down their remaining operations here at the beginning of 2015, leaving the future of the ancient buildings uncertain. Some have now been vacant for 30 years.

My great-grandfather, Raymond Eastes, three of his sons, and one of their wives worked at the GE plants. I wanted to document this place that meant so much to my family, before it disappeared.

Comparing these buildings to modern industrial buildings shows how much the business of manufacturing has changed in the last 100 years. The GE complex in Fort Wayne is made up of numerous large, multistory brick buildings. They're utilitarian, but the company included some decorative touches in their exterior design.

The design of the buildings, and the iconic lighted sign that stands atop the tallest of them, shows a pride in their business that is not seen in modern factory designs. Modern industrial buildings are ugly, plain, undecorated metal boxes. The end of General Electric in Fort Wayne is the end of an era in this largely industrial city. GE was the last of the old manufacturers whose success built the city's prosperity in the early 20th Century.

The iconic General Electric sign was dismantled on March 29, 2016. According to a local TV news report, the company took the sign down because people had been sneaking into the building and vandalizing the sign.

There are now plans to redevelop the old GE complex as a residential and retail center to be called Electric Works. It will have apartments and shops built in the historic factory buildings. In April, 2018 the developers of the Electric Works project invited a small number of photographers to photograph the insides of some of the buildings before work begins. My photographs from the tour are in my Abandoned GE Factory portfolio.




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