H. Black Garment Company Factory - Tower Press, Cleveland Ohio

Date added: October 7, 2022 Categories: Ohio Industrial

The H. Black & Company, one of Cleveland's major manufacturers of women's suits and cloaks, started out as a notions house. The Black family, Jews of Hungarian descent, began their business in their home by producing ready-to-wear clothing based on European patterns. The Black Garment Factory was established in 1874. The company, famous for their Wooltex products, at one time housed the largest manufacturer of women's coats and suits between New York City and Chicago. The company's name was later changed to the H. Black Garment Factory, named after Herman Black. In 1903 Morris A. Black succeeded his father as company president. In 1907, H. Black and Company moved from Cleveland's old garment district to a new factory on Superior Avenue. "Black believed that factories should not only be efficient but also attractive and pleasant working places." Robert D. Kohn sought to revolutionize factory working conditions and together with H. Black and Company designed a building that was as Kohn expressed, "...built of exactly the same materials as a dozen others within a radius of a few miles, ... the difference is that in this building an attempt has been made to use these same materials with skill, taste and what the owner once called "affection."

Black ran the company until 1922 and employed around 1,000 workers. He aided Cleveland in becoming a national garment center. Black merged his company into the Printz-Biederman Company in 1922. The Printz-Biederman Company experienced continued success in Cleveland, Boston, New York, and Chicago up until 1978 when it closed. Black also organized three companies, including the Linder Co. Department store, which he headed until 1936. Black was an influential businessman and civic leader; he helped found the Civic League, the predecessor of the Citizen's League, and organized and chaired the City Plan Commission from 1914-19. Black was at one time the president of the Chamber of Commerce. He, with fellow merchant Charles Ettinger, donated $200 to create the Hebrew Free Loan Association. In addition, he was one of the first members of the Oakwood Club, which was the first major Jewish organization in Cleveland Heights.

Evangelical Press, formerly the Publishing House of the Evangelical Church took over the H. Black & Company Building in 1928. This establishment was organized in 1854 by the Evangelical Church primarily to print church-related material including religious periodicals. The building was renamed the Evangelical Building and housed "the publication interests of one of America's widespread religious denominations." The church's general offices were located in this building through the early 1940s.

By 1936, the building had been renamed Tower Press after Tower Press Inc., a letter press printing company that was a publishing house of the Evangelical Church. The Tower Press Inc. occupied the building into the late 1950s. From the 1940s to the 1970s multiple tenants and various companies occupied the building, including clothing-related firms, printing firms, offices, the Great Lakes College and Clinic, art studios, and furniture companies. The building has been vacant since 1987.

The Garment Industry in Cleveland

The garment industry in Cleveland started as early as 1860 and reached its peak during the 1920s. The garment industry was stimulated by the need to manufacture uniforms for sailors and miners and to increase mechanization. The establishment of systems for sizing men's and boys' clothing, aided the increase in development, which was based on measurements obtained during the Civil War. The Depression of 1873 contributed to the growth of ready-made clothing. Men found manufactured clothing an_ inexpensive alternative to custom-made clothing. The ready-to-wear industry also coincided with the tremendous urbanization in industrial cities like Cleveland and the wave of immigrants that came into the country at the turn of the century.

The first wave of entrepreneurs of the garment industry in Cleveland were mainly of German and Austro-Hungarian descent. The system evolved from home sewing to factory production. Garment manufacturing started in the Flats along the Cuyahoga River, but by the 20th century it was concentrated in the Warehouse District. The garment industry also spread to other areas in the city. The Cleveland Worsted Mills near E. 55th and Broadway was organized in the 1870s. The Richman Brothers Company, located at 1600 East 55th Street, was one of the largest clothing chains in the nation during the 1950s. Other large firms included the L.N. Gross Company, Joseph & Feiss Company, Printz-Biederman Company, and the Federal Knitting Mills.

Cleveland's garment industry had a long history and a diverse ethnic pattern among its workers. The Jewish community had a great impact on the garment industry in Cleveland as summarized by Sidney Vincent and Judah Rubinstein: "In a survey in 1892 the 'Plain Dealer' listed twenty-two local manufacturers and wholesale houses in the clothing industry, all of them Jewish. These firms for the next three decades made Cleveland a rival of New York". By the post-Civil War era, "Cleveland's new masses required garments, and Jews figured prominently among both their makers and their sellers." "Not only was the sale of clothing Jewish, but... its manufacture also." By the second decade of the twentieth century, garment production ranked among Cleveland's foremost industries. Not only were the entrepreneurs in the booming industry predominately Jewish, but so was a considerable proportion of the labor.

The Richman Brothers Company, manufacturers of men's suits, furnishing's and hats, started their business in Portsmouth, Ohio and moved to Cleveland in 1879. The company was the first clothier to open retail outlets selling factory-produced men's clothing directly to customers. In 1969 the company was sold to the F.W. Woolworth Co. of New York. The Richman Brothers building located on East 55th Street is currently abandoned.

The L.N. Gross Company, founded in 1900, specialized in the production of women's shirtwaists. L.N. Gross was a pioneer in the manufacturing process, the first to employ assembly line production. The company eventually closed and the building, located at 425 Lakeside, has been rehabilitated and converted for residential use. Joseph & Feiss Company, an important part of Cleveland's garment industry, set up a wholesale clothing store in 1907 at 82 Superior Street and moved several times before settling at their W. 53rd Street plant. Hugo Boss AG acquired the firm in 1980 and by 1995 the company had 800 workers in the Cleveland area.

Building Description

The H. Black & Company Building is located between the 1900 and 2100 blocks of Superior Avenue on Cleveland's east side. The building's address is 1900 Superior Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio. When the building was constructed in 1907 the neighborhood was primarily frame houses. the lots on Superior were for the most part vacant, except for St. Peters Catholic Church at East 17th Street. By 1912 scattered warehouses and churches had been constructed along this stretch of Superior Avenue. By the late 1930s commercial buildings lined Superior, which was becoming the city's new garment district. The side streets contained homes and apartment buildings. In this same block were the Cuyahoga County Criminal Courts Building (1930, demolished 1997) and the Police Department Headquarters/Central Police Station (1935). Currently, the neighborhood primarily consists of large brick warehouses and the newly constructed plant of the "Plain Dealer" newspaper.

The H. Black & Company Building is recognized as the first reinforced concrete structure in Cleveland. Its large ornamented water tower exhibits the extended effort of owner and architect to give the building both a physical and functional beauty). New York architect Robert D. Kohn designed the 1907 Mission Style building. Originally, the building opened as the H. Black Garment Factory Building, later named the H. Black and Company Building, but was sold to Tower Press Inc. in 1936 and the Tower Press name has sustained. The building has a two-story central portion connecting two three-story wings making a "U". The north elevation has two wings flanking a seven bay two-story structure. Both wings are four bays wide each with entrances. The entrances are adorned with stone quoining and columns. Several signboards are found above the entrances, they include: "THE-H-BLACK-CO"; "Wooltex"; "STANDARD BEDDING COMPANY"; and "TOWER PRESS". The building rises to a maximum of 60 feet. A masonry water tower, beginning square in plan and becoming octagonal at upper stage is centrally located on the south elevation. The exterior of the tower is a combination of brick with panels of stucco and tile. The building is constructed of skeleton reinforced concrete with pressed brick exterior walls with dark purple joints deeply incised creating an interesting texture. The hip roof employs French ceramic tile with sawtooth skylights. The windows are multi-paned windows of varying sizes and configurations. The most notable element of the windows is the segmental treatment at the hood of the window opening. Colored tiles decorate the main cornice, the tower, the walls of the entrance hall, and the bare rear walls of the factory (where the future extensions were to be attached). The total cost of the blue and green tiles did not exceed five hundred dollars

The interior of the building has an open plan. There are four staircases that lead to the upper floors, strategically located near exits to provide safe exodus in case of a fire. In addition, there are three elevators in the building. The two main entrances, off of Superior Avenue, have small vestibules and corridors that lead to the staircases. Little remains of the east lobby, while remnants of the west lobby consist of the glazed tile, and brick wall with multi-paned windows, opening into what was once the shipping room. The most important elements found on the interior are the applications of glazed decorative tile and wall stencils which are two flat colors in a weaving pattern, mostly at the tops of the concrete columns and the ends of the transverse concrete girders. These items were employed to improve the quality of the lives of the factory workers and to "help relieve monotony". The locker rooms and the lunchroom were large, and fresh air supplies and foul air exhausts were designed into the building. The large watering tank was housed in the tower and the entire building has sprinklers.

The first floor housed the cutting, designing, receiving of price goods, and shipping room, offices, and the showroom. A small amount of shelving from the showroom remains. An attempt to provide a well-lit and ventilated workspace was achieved on the second floor, through the use of sawtooth skylights running through the center of the roofline. At a later time a catwalk was added on the second floor, directly in front of the monitors, most likely to allow foreman and supervisors to scan the entire work floor area.

The symmetrical facade, with a hip roof and dormers, clay tile roofing, overhanging eaves and stucco spandrels, characterize the building as a Mission Style industrial building. The only alterations to the building over the years have been some interior wall construction. The existing conditions of the building are poor. The broken roof tiles and neglect has produced a lot of water damage to the concrete both on the exterior and interior. The original stenciling is long gone, painted over when the building was acquired by Evangelical Press. Although the building has been left to deteriorate, the strong building materials and construction have aided in its retention. The exterior brick demonstrates the usual sign of air pollution, though the west wing masonry was cleaned within the last twenty years. The skylights display deterioration and the overuse of tar. Plans are being developed to rehabilitate the building.