Residents who want a solid piece of General Motors’ legacy in Janesville will get their chance May 4.
Blackhawk Community Credit Union plans to distribute bricks from the former General Motors assembly plant in Janesville. They’re free and come with a “certificate of authenticity” that memorializes the nearly 100 years the plant existed.
Credit union board member Steve Knox, a volunteer in an effort to obtain, clean and distribute bricks from the plant, said the credit union has cleaned up about 2,000 bricks so far and is ready to hand out up to two bricks to anybody who wants them.
That effort has rolled out as the property’s new owner, Commercial Development, has worked to demolish the plant and ready the 250-acre site for redevelopment.
The credit union has worked with Commercial Development to obtain historical relics—including bricks—from the plant that it aims to incorporate in a GM workers’ “legacy center” at a new, $30 million corporate headquarters in downtown Janesville.
The credit union has planned for months to give the bricks away to people who want them as a memento of the GM plant, a landmark to Janesville’s history as an auto manufacturing city.
As far as Knox knows, the Blackhawk volunteers are the only group making bricks available to the public.
“We’re the main GM ‘brick liaison,’ I think,” he said.
The 4.8 million-square-foot plant, which stopped production in 2009, has been steadily disappearing as Commercial Development trucks out steel and scrap. The company had promised to make some bricks available for former employees and others in the community.
Knox said credit union volunteers will distribute the bricks from 1 to 4 p.m. May 4 at Blackhawk’s west-side branch at 2640 W. Court St. The distribution is planned as a drive-up operation. People will be allowed two free bricks per vehicle, he said.
The bricks are among the oldest in the plant, Knox said. They come from a wall that separated Fisher Body and Chevrolet operations—an area thousands of workers passed every day.
“They’re kind of the sandstone look. There is some red in there; it all depends on the bricks you pulled up,” he said.
“You’re getting everything from broken, cracked, immaculate and everything in between. But you can tell the craftsmanship of those bricks is something special compared to what you get from a home improvement store today.”
Blackhawk Community Credit Union was founded at the GM plant and initially served local autoworkers. Many of the credit union’s local members are current and former GM workers and their family members.
Several credit union volunteers, including board members and their teenage children, have spent hours cleaning up the bricks and piling them on pallets.
Knox has been involved with the brick project. He said he’s been working alongside his daughter and his dad, Ross Knox, a former plant worker, to get the bricks ready.
“The younger people did a lot. The older people are very sore from the work,” he said.
Knox said he has enjoyed seeing young volunteers realize the significance of a manufacturing plant that shaped the ideals and family structures of thousands of residents. Bricks can’t talk, but they speak just the same, Knox said.
“Every one of those kids who’ve helped, while most of them are too young to understand the importance of what GM meant, they understood the emotion of those bricks and what that means to this community. I didn’t have emotion about that until just recently, but I think that’s pretty neat,” Knox said.
He said May 11 will be a tentative second date for brick distribution.
Knox said the credit union could obtain more bricks as demolition continues. Some of them might come from the plant’s façade, which faces South Jackson Street. It’s one of the last remaining brick structures on the huge plant site.
There’s also a chance Blackhawk could get some truckloads from the 200-foot-tall smokestack after demolition crews topple it, he said.
The stack could come down very soon, he said.