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Rochester Hills

Twist Drill moves toward historic status

February 6, 2013

ROCHESTER HILLS — A small portion of the National Twist Drill site may receive historic district designation, despite objections from one of the property owners.

Constructed in 1940, the buildings of the former National Twist Drill are located on 180 acres at the northeast corner of Rochester and Tienken roads. As proposed, the Twist Drill Historic District would extend from the Tienken Road right of way north 812 feet.

During World War II, National Twist Drill supplied approximately 95 percent of the U.S. Navy’s high-speed metal cutting tools, and the company was one of a few in the country that machined armor plates for battleships, states a report by the Rochester Hills Historic District Study Committee.

Howard McGregor built the company’s Art Deco style administrative offices and factory on the site of the former Barwise farm, and Richard Marr served as architect.

Last August, one of the owners of the property asked that the site be removed from consideration as a historic district.

“My father, Raymond Mozer, purchased the property in 1980,” Eric Mozer said. “My broker informed me that potential buyers were scared away from the property because of the potential historic site list. I am asking to remove it from the list.”

“This is a very difficult decision for me,” Rochester Hills City Council President Greg Hooper said Jan. 28. “In the past, I have been against designating property historically if the property owner does not want it.

“Having said that — regarding the historic nature of this property and the history associated with it and the architecture of it — it is undeniable, in regards to the history of Rochester Hills and the former Avon Township,” Hooper said. “Not to protect and preserve that portion that represents the history and heritage is not the right decision.”

In the late 1950s and ’60s, National Twist Drill was the largest employer in the area, with subsidiaries in Cleveland, Newark, Detroit and Canton. The company manufactured 27,500 catalogued cutting tools in addition to custom tools, with annual sales of more than $40 million.

McGregor donated land for North Hill and McGregor Elementary School and Crittenton Hospital. As a close friend and advisor of Alfred and Matilda Dodge Wilson, McGregor was instrumental in the formation of Oakland University.

National Twist Drill closed in 1983 after a series of sales and plant relocations. New owners renamed it the Rochester Hills Technical Center, leasing space for office use, light industry and warehousing. Today the property operates as the Corporate Park of Rochester Hills.

Hooper said he supports a “limited footprint” for historic designation. “I think a creative redevelopment of this property will enhance those building features that are being saved,” he said.

Council member James Rosen agreed. “I think historic designation will help with whatever redevelopment is possible at that location, particularly if it is not an industrial-type facility,” he said. “As a residential facility, it may be valuable; as office, it may be valuable — as some sort of new loft community type of thing.

“People’s taste are changing radically in where they live, how they live, how they work, how they drive — all that stuff,” Rosen said. “I think it will be worth far more (for) living, shopping or something other than manufacturing or a warehouse. I am hoping this will help the future.”

By a unanimous vote, the Rochester Hills City Council approved a first reading for an ordinance creating a portion of the site’s historic district designation.

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