Old textile mill in Cleveland

Federal Knitting Mills Building, Cleveland Ohio
Date added: January 27, 2023 Categories: Ohio Industrial Textile Mill
South facade (1999)

Herbert G. (Goldberger) Goulder and Louis H. Hayes established the Federal Knitting Mills company in Cleveland in 1905. Within six months Louis L. (Seligman) Selden joined the company as a partner. The company, employing 75 people, was first located at a rented 10,000-square-foot loft at 600 Huron Road. Around 1910 the company relocated and became the sole occupant of a building at West 29th and Detroit. The firm was incorporated in 1926 and by 1928, the firm employed 650 people. Over 100,000 pieces of knitwear were produced each week. Federal Knitting Mills made sweaters, bathing suits, caps, dresses, shawls, scarves, knitted headwear, and many knitted novelties. It also exported knitted lace for Spanish shawls that were sold to tourists in Manila. The products were wholesaled to jobbers (middlemen) and also through Federal Knitting Mills' own agency in New York City, which controlled worldwide distribution. The company's customers included well-known department stores and mail-order houses, including Marshall Field, Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, and Carson Pirie Scott.

The Federal Knitting Mills continued to flourish during the Great Depression and sales reached a peak of $2,782,418 in 1932. That year the company had the best record of all issues listed in the Cleveland Stock Exchange. Production records were set in 1934 and bonuses continued to be given out as late as December 1936. In the summer of 1937, the plant was the site of union activities that were extensively covered in the newspapers. Unionization led to strikes, which featured "bitter rivalry" and jurisdictional disputes between unions. ILGWU (International Ladies Garment Workers Union) members at the plant went on strike, claiming management of the mill tried to block their organization campaign by inviting AFL (American Federation of Labor) organizers. The AFL had agreed on a contract with Federal Knitting Mills before it even had a single member in the plant. At one point, the ILGWU, a CIO (Committee for Industrial Organization) affiliate, picketed the mill, and the AFL and police escorted workers into the mill. The strike involved several locally notable names including Eliot Ness, who was safety director in Cleveland at the time, and Beryl Peppercorn, "one of the city's most influential labor leaders".

The strike also brought to town such visitors as Rose Pesotta, International Vice President of the ILGWU (who was arrested at least once) and Heywood Broun of New York, president of the American Newspaper Guild. In her book, Bread Upon the Waters, Pesotta recorded some of the events of the strike. The strikes in Cleveland involved four of the ready-wear factories, in addition to strikes occurring at Republic Steel, the Industrial Rayon, and Cleveland Worsted Mills. The picketers guarded all eight entries at Federal Knitting Mills, and were harassed by both the legal authorities and by the AFL. On July 15, 1937, the Regional Labor Board began its hearings regarding three of the four plants; the Federal Knitting Mills, Stone Knitting Mills, and Bamberger-Reinthal. Attorney Corrigan made a case for the ILGWU, based on two pertinent clauses in the labor law known as the Wagner Act:

"Section 7: Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in concerted activities, for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection."

"Section 8: It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer - (1) To interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7. (2) To dominate or interfere with the formation or administration of any labor organization..."

Even after Federal Knitting Mills' workers chose the ILGWU as their union in August, 1937, in a vote supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, picketing continued due to the unions' jurisdictional dispute. In November of 1937, the Federal Knitting Mills company management said that it had been placed in an "unfavorable competitive position." 1937 was the first year ever that the company had lost money, though it remained in strong financial condition. A decision was made in December, 1937, to liquidate the company over the next few years. One of the reasons for this action was a result of the union activities in conjunction with the growing tendency by jobbers(middlemen) to furnish yarn and finance the purchase of machinery for the manufacture of knit goods by contractors at prices below those that manufacturers could make the goods and sell them to the jobbers. These "sweat shop" methods made competition difficult.

Little is known of the 1910 architect, Gustave B. Bohm. He was born in Cleveland around 1874 and educated in Cleveland's public schools. He attended Columbia University and was listed in Cleveland City Directories as an architect from 1901-1932 and died on April 15, 1934. The architects of the later additions, Christian-Schwarzenberg and Gaede Company, also designed the L.N. Gross Building. The L. N. Gross company was established in 1898, specializing in women's shirtwaists. The design for the L.N. Gross Building by engineering firm Christian-Schwarzenburg and Gaede, was constructed using one of the first cast-in-place concrete slab plate systems to be built within the Warehouse District and possibly Cleveland. The building is a Commercial Style building with Neo-Classical elements. The building housed facilities for the production of garments in addition to offices, sales and shipping areas. Two unusual features are the large cafeteria located on the third floor and the abundant restrooms found on each floor. The firm also designed the Richman Brothers Building on East 55th south of Superior. Richman Brothers manufactured men's suits and furnishings.

In the late 18th century and the early 19th century, textile mills were built in New England and the Middle Atlantic states. Factories in general in America grew out of a need to manufacture mass quantities of goods. The advent of wrought and later cast iron for building structures changed the design of factories and the load that these structures could hold. These buildings could also be designed in a way that allowed an interior frame to carry the weight with window openings being expanded to provide the necessary light required for manufacturing. In general, factory buildings major elements and configurations are based on the operations of the manufacturing process. The need to transport raw materials into factories and finished products away often requires special attention to building access. The unadorned commercial design of the Federal Knitting Mills building demonstrates the trend in factory structures in the early part of the twentieth century. Functionally designed, employing large windowpanes, skylights, and monitors, in an effort to provide the necessary lighting for garment manufacturing. In addition, the evolution of the construction methods of the building illustrates the growth of the industry in the early part of the twentieth century.

The Federal Knitting Mills thrived for twenty-seven years as a major economic force in the garment industry. The building continued to be utilized by garment companies for years after the liquidation of the Federal Knitting Mills. The Gottfried Company (Marie Dressler and Mynette dresses), a dress manufacturer occupied the building through the 1940s. The S. Weitz and Company, cloth manufacturers, occupied the building from 1940-1956; their printed sign is still visible on the building. The Barton Knitting Mills occupied the building through the 1950s-60s. From the 1950s to the 1990s, smaller and varied businesses occupied the building, including the Deltronix Corporation and the Glasier Casket Company, both of the 1960s-90s. Now, the building has been rehabilitated for residential use, maintaining the significant historic elements.

Building Description

The Federal Knitting Mills Building is located at the northeast corner of Detroit Avenue and West 29th Street, in the City of Cleveland Landmark District, Franklin Circle Historic District. The building's address is 2860-2894 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio. When the building was constructed in 1910 the neighborhood was primarily residential, with commercial buildings lining Detroit east of West 28th Street, towards downtown Cleveland. The Franklin Circle Historic District (a Cleveland Landmark) remains an equal mix of residential and commercial buildings. The majority of the residential buildings are two-story wood-framed Victorians. Commercial buildings are two to three-story masonry structures. The Federal Knitting Mills Building is recognized as one of the few remaining commercial buildings of the Franklin Circle Historic District. The 1910-1915 commercial-style building was designed by local architect Gustave B. Bohm. Additional construction for the building, required during the construction of Interstate Route 2, was headed by the architectural firm of Christian, Schwarzenberg and Gaede Company in 1917. Originally, the building opened as the Federal Knitting Mills Building, but was sold to the Seaway Company in the 1960s. The building is a three-story masonry constructed building, with a small additional one-story in the northeast "L" of the building. The interior structure is wood post and steel-beam construction, with skylights and a clerestory on the third floor.

The Federal Knitting Mills Building is a Chicago Commercial style brick structure with stone decorative accents along the cornice. The building is a simple design, limited to detail in the fashion of the commercial style of the 1910s. Projecting piers between the bays minimizes the horizontal effect of the building. The facade faces Detroit Avenue, it is 44' high and carries 16 bays along Detroit Avenue. There are two entrances at the east and west end of the building on the south facade. The west elevation is similar to the south facade. The north elevation employs several entryways for delivery access. The east wall is a blank wall with limited projections suggesting the Chicago style. A large chimney extends upward along the northwest corner of the building. A large water-tower structure is located on the roof, the tank is missing.

The building is a three-story warehouse building with an open plan. The building is sixteen bays along the south elevation and ten bays deep to the north. There are several entrances into the building, two on the south elevation, one on the west, three on the north and three on the east. The building is a combination of masonry construction and steel and wood beams with wood piers. The roof is a rolled asphalt flat roof.

The immense fenestration allows a great amount of light to fill the interior space. A photo dating from 1934 demonstrates the use of 1/1 double-hung wood windows in the sixteen bays that front Detroit Avenue. Alterations, sometime after 1994, blocked in a majority of the lower-level windows. Steel industrial windows are located throughout the window openings, based on the 1934 photo, these are replacement windows.

An open interior court is located in the center of the building. The court has brick flooring and is enclosed on all four sides with an entrance to the east. The existing windows demonstrate alterations. Both steel industrial windows and wood 12/12 remain, in addition to the glass block and concrete blocked in areas.

The 115,672-square-foot building was constructed in four phases. The westernmost portion (approximately the first four bays) measuring 70' along Detroit by 192' along West 29th, was constructed in 1910. In 1915, an additional 4 bays was constructed to the east along Detroit, spanning a depth of 114' towards Vermont Avenue. The plan for these first two phases was designed by local architect Gustave B. Bohm.

The last two phases of construction were administered by the architectural firm of Christian, Schwarzenberg and Gaede Company. Phase three of the building occurred in 1917. The change in the structure occurred in response to the construction of the nearby bridge to the north. The construction of the Detroit-Superior Bridge in the 1810s, required the widening of Detroit Avenue in front of the Federal Knitting Mills, resulting in changes to the building. The widening of Detroit removed 34' of the existing southernmost face of the structure in effect the remaining surface of the structure fronting Detroit was refaced and an addition of 118" was constructed to the east along Detroit, sharing a common face. The last substantial phase of additions transpired in 1921, when Federal Knitting Mill enlarged the complex to 93' along Vermont Avenue with a depth of 93'.

Little of the original structure's exterior designed by Bohm remains, only a portion of the west wall. The entrance to the lower level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge was directly in front of the building, explaining the width of the street at this point. Streetcars utilized this entrance from 1917-1955, it has since been closed and covered.

Significant architectural features can be identified as the central courtyard, the stone accents at the parapet and the extensive use of fenestration, monitor windows and skylights. The existing conditions of the building are good. The exterior brick demonstrates the usual sign of air pollution. The existing wood and industrial steel sash windows demonstrate neglect. The skylights display deterioration while the majority of the monitor windows are in good condition, minus the overuse of tar. In general the building is of a simple design and lacks architectural details.