Local artist hopes to resurrect abandoned mill
Jun. 16, 2019 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
Henry Ford probably didn’t appreciate the artistic merit of the mills he had designed by famed architect Albert Kahn back in the early 1900s, concentrating more on the efficiency of the structures which were used for hydro-electric power in manufacturing.
Acclaimed Plymouth artist Tony Roko, however, has a deep admiration for the work of Kahn, considered one of the greatest architects of all time.
Roko is hoping to bring the genius of Kahn back into the public eye while he continues his efforts to help young artists. Through his foundation, he has partnered with Wayne County and is leading the public-private partnership to save the historic Plymouth Engine Tap Plant, a former Kahn-designed Ford factory mill located on Wilcox Road near the intersection of Hines Drive in Plymouth. The building was sold by Ford Motor Co. to Wayne County in 1949 and used for storage until about 1990. It has stood empty and unused for nearly 30 years and while it is on the state historic building registry, has fallen into disrepair.
Roko learned to paint in an Albert Kahn building, also owned by Ford, and is hoping history can repeat for the young artists he presently mentors through his Art Foundation, a 501c3 entity he created in 2017 to help teach disadvantaged youth, particularly those in therapeutic care, about art and self expression.
The plan is to rehabilitate the nearly 100-year-old Plymouth Mill structure into an arts education center and student art gallery to display the artwork of students from The Art Foundation. Roko would also like to move his art studio into the building, bringing his work closer to his students. Currently, Roko works with youngsters of various skill levels and individual objectives in his studio in downtown Plymouth.
Roko, a Plymouth-Canton high school graduate, began his career at Ford Motor Co. and as his innate talent was recognized, he was pulled from the factory floor to create murals in the plants to help improve morale. The quality of that work quickly escalated into the public domain and solo exhibitions and commissions for serious art collectors across the country, including Lady GaGa, Jay Leno and the Holocaust Museum, followed. Roko was named Detroit’s Best Fine Artist for five consecutive years and he was also selected to create a series of paintings to act as the new face of Atwater Brewery. He is about to begin work on a large mural installation at the Detroit Train Station renovation, a commission from Lincoln Motors.
In addition to the historic mill building which has been closed to the public for three decades, Roko hopes to transform the blighted property surrounding the factory into a sculpture garden featuring works designed by elementary school youth.
The “Inner Child” garden would include walking paths and agricultural installations open to the public from dawn to dusk daily. The plan also includes public amenities for cyclists, fishermen and Hines Park visitors.
Roko is aware of the amount of work, dedication and money the renovation will take but is determined to bring the unused and dilapidated building back into use as the architectural gem it once was.
A public meeting has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, to explain the plans for the restoration and future use of the old mill and determine public support for the project. The meeting will take place at the Penn Theater, 760 Penniman Ave. in downtown Plymouth, across from Kellogg Park.