The historic 196 Cesar E. Chavez Avenue Posted: August 14, 2012

OLHSA’s central office in Pontiac on Cesar E. Chavez Ave. wasn’t always home to this Community Action Agency. Founded in 1964 as part President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, OLHSA was first located in the heart of Pontiac at 1 Lafayette Street, previously the Masonic Temple. It wasn’t until 1973 that OLHSA moved to its current Pontiac location, the historic 196 Cesar E. Chavez. The building is a Pontiac landmark that has been used for everything from manufacturing buggies and early model automobiles to housing executive offices and human services.

In 1893 when Edward M. Murphy established the Pontiac Buggy Company, the building was used to produce horse-drawn carriages. As technology advanced, Murphy’s focus went from carriages to automobiles. After producing the first Pontiac car in 1907, the Pontiac Buggy Company became the manufacturing plant for Murphy’s new endeavor, the Oakland Motor Car Company.

 In January of 1909 Murphy sold half of the company to the rising General Motors empire. The building was then used for production of its main product, a car called the Oakland. Murphy died unexpectedly in the summer of 1909, leading to GM’s full purchase of Oakland. General Motors was then producing not just the Oakland, but Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac as well.

As GM developed in the following years the Oakland was retired and a new branch of GM was created - Pontiac. The building became the first headquarters for the Pontiac division of GM in the 1920s. The building held executive offices and engineering departments as well and the first assembly line for the Pontiac automobile.

In 1970 the Pontiac division of General Motors vacated the building and by 1971 new businesses seeking headquarters space were interested in the building. Oakland County Government purchased the building from General Motors and after a couple years of renovations it was leased to the Michigan Department of Social Services, now known as Michigan Department of Human Services.

The new occupants were welfare offices and a county clothing store. OLHSA (then known as The Oakland County Commission on Economic Opportunity) was given space on the fourth floor, rent-free.

Now occupying the entire building, with Head Start on three floors, offices on the other two, and a first-floor Welcome Center, OLHSA will continue to provide services right where they are needed most,196 Cesar E. Chavez Avenue.


196 Cesar E. Chavez, circa 1920s