After a contentious battle between the state’s governor and a local politician, on August 1, 1989, GM closed its Framingham Assembly plant for good.
At its height, GM’s Framingham Assembly plant was one of the largest industrial manufacturing facilities in the state of Massachusetts, employing 3,700 workers from all over New England.
GM broke ground on Framingham Assembly in 1945, on the site of a small regional airport. The company invested $12 million in its construction and by the end of the first year, it had produced almost 25,000 Buicks.
At the time, Fisher Body was still a distinct entity in GM, integrated in 1926 by William C. Durant as GM’s internal coach building division. Framingham Assembly became a Fisher Body plant in 1959, at which point it had churned out almost 700,000 Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Pontiac models.
In 1968, the plant went through a retooling and reorganization under the GM Assembly Division, and was set up to build the company’s popular A-Body variants of the Chevrolet Chevelle and Pontiac LeMans. Framingham Assembly began building the LeMans-based GTO in 1969, and the other two A-Body cars — the Buick Skylark and Oldsmobile Cutlass — came on line in 1970.
Framingham Assembly would produce the next two generations of the A-Body Cutlass until production of that model ceased in the 1988 model year. Throughout the 1980s, Framingham Assembly produced the front-wheel drive Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, Pontiac 6000 and Chevrolet Celebrity.
Framingham Assembly ran into problems during the Dukakis administration. GM sought to purchase a 35-acre parcel of land for a new paint and plastics production facility, but the Town of Framingham refused.
Governor Michael Dukakis used the state’s eminent domain powers to take control of the property for the construction of the $224 million expansion. Tony Colonna, a local politician — who was angling for a new town facility on the site — used his influence to delay the expansion.
“He’s…the most powerful man in Framingham,” said Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam in a 1987 article, “a hard-nosed local power broker who uses his jobs as chief court clerk and chairman of the public works commission to hold sway over almost every aspect of life in the town.
The Boston Globe’s Beam detailed how the whole deal went wrong in a column in 1987:
In May of 1985, GM’s Framingham plant manager phoned the governor’s office from a meeting in Atlanta, eager to report that the corporation had authorized the expansion of his factory. He might as well have dialed a wrong number.
“[Chairman of the Framingham DPW] Tony [Colonna] was miffed from the very beginning that the call didn’t go to him,” says Thomas Hubbard, a Dukakis aide. The call didn’t go to Colonna because GM knew it would need a state wetlands permit to expand the plant, as Hubbard and other Dukakis aides tried to explain to Colonna in numerous meetings over the course of two years.
Slated to begin producing minivans, the new plant expansion would’ve allowed the production of plastic panels for the Pontiac Trans Sport and Oldsmobile Silhouette, both of which used dent- and rust-resistant polymer body panels.
The plant expansion never happened, and by November of 1987, there was rumbling that the plant was going to close for good.
On August 1, 1989 — 25 years ago today — it happened permanently.
It’s not a complete loss. The facility still exists. ADESA — the auction giant — purchased the building and claims that it’s the largest indoor auction facility in the world, able to hold 10,000 cars and 4,000 auction participants.
However, the reverberations of a plant closure continue to impact the town. In 2009, CSX Corporation shut its Southside Rail Yard, which was constructed in the 1980s to service the Framingham Assembly plant.
Image Source: High Performance Pontiac, FraminghamMatters.blogspot.com, The Center for Land Use Interpretation