Henry Ford's Amazon ghost town, Fordlandia, at centre of Brazilian suit over preservation

RIO DE JANEIRO – The Amazon is taking back Fordlandia, Henry Ford’s abandoned rubber-tapping metropolis in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest, but a new lawsuit aims to preserve what’s left of the quixotic ghost town.

Brazil’s federal prosecutors’ office said Thursday it’s suing the country’s Iphan architectural heritage agency and a city in the Amazon rainforest for failing to preserve Fordlandia and to demand they grant it protected status.

Built starting in the 1920s in Brazil’s Para state by Ford Motor Company in a bid to guarantee a supply of natural rubber for tires, Fordlandia was at one point the third-largest city in the Amazon region — a bustling community built to look like idyllic U.S. suburbs, complete with white picket fences. But plagues decimated the rubber tree plantations, and the city was soon abandoned. In 1945, it was purchased by the Brazilian government.

In Thursday’s statement, the prosecutors’ office said the heritage agency’s process for granting the city historical status, meant to guarantee its preservation, has dragged on for far too long. Begun in the 1990s, the status has yet to be granted, and in the meanwhile, the city “has been rapidly deteriorating,” the statement said.

“It is clear that Iphan is neglecting the duties that are incumbent upon it by law,” the statement read.

“The Old Hospital had its roof removed and the interior, exposed to the elements, has suffered severe degradation,” the statement said. “The Vila Americana, where the employees of Henry Ford lived, were occupied by locals who did construction work without technical assistance.”

Other damaged buildings include the port warehouse, which had some of its equipment looted. The nearby city of Aveiro — also a target of the suit — “is accused of constructing a square without respecting even the basic rules for preserving historical sites.”