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The Van Dorn Iron Works Company was located at 2685-2700 East 79th Street in the Kinsman neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio.

History

James H. Van Dorn, at the age of 18, was apprenticed to John A. Topliff of Elyria of the blacksmith trade.2 After serving the apprenticeship, he went to work for Aultman & Miller of Akron for ten years before forming his own iron fence fabrication company in 1872.1 2 He relocated his business to Cleveland in 1878 to be closer to supply and shipping facilities 8 and renamed the small company the Cleveland Wrought Iron Fence Company, producing ornamental iron works.

While waiting to submit a bid for cemetery fencing in Milwaukee, Van Dorn overhead someone mentioning jail cell construction.8 He believed that jail cells were nothing more than indoor fences, and went to add them to the company product line. Within a few years, Van Dorn’s company was the largest manufacturer of jail cells in the United States, some of which were used in the West Virginia Penitentiary.2 As a result, the company was renamed the Van Dorn Iron Works Company in 1884.1

A one-story brick and iron machine shop with monitor windows, measuring 210 feet by 80 feet, was completed in the early 1890’s.9 A three-story brick and iron office building, measuring 66 feet by 32 feet, was constructed in 1894.3 9

Van Dorn expanded into structural steels in 1898,2 timed to coincide with the rise of the skyscraper and automobile. One of the company’s early contracts was the erection of a 16-story iron skyscraper in downtown, the Williamson, which was built in 160 working days.2 By the early 20th century, the company had expanded to 1,100 employees and produced frames, fenders and other automobile parts and accessories for local industries.1 A steel structural shop, 290 feet by 120 feet, was finished in 1899.9

By 1908, Van Dorn employed 600 and consisted of four departments: the Structural Iron Department, the Steel Jail Department, the Ornamental and Light Iron Department and the Art Metal and File Department.2 The company also controlled the Van Dorn & Dutton Company that manufactured cut gears for shops, trolley cars and automobiles that employed 150, and the Van Dorn & Elliot Company that employed 50. Van Dorn was also pioneered the development of the mechanical dump truck hoist, and later produced tanks and armor plates for Jeeps and aircraft during World War I and World War II.

In 1916, Van Dorn expanded on the west side of 79th Street by constructing a five-story concrete-reinforced building.6 It featured two floors of offices and three floors of factory space. To the west of the site was additional Van Dorn acreage, which was part of the Auora Vapor Stove Company that built gas stoves, and the Standard Foundry Company. An assembling shop, 120 feet by 85 feet, and another unspecified building, 120 feet square, was completed along Grand Avenue.9 A three-story brick and reinforced concrete building, designed by Ernest McGeorge and measuring 265 feet by 44 feet by 121 feet, was completed in 1919-20.

Van Dorn diversified by purchasing the Davies Can Company and the Colonial Plastics Manufacturing Company in the 1940’s.1 By the 1960’s, the company produced drawn aluminum cans for processed foods and plastic injection molding machines. Because of its diversification, the company was renamed the Van Dorn Company in 1964.

In February 1984, Van Dorn acquired 50% of the Reifenhauser-Nabco Inc. of Springfield, Vermont, partnering with Reifenhauser GmbH & Company of Troisdorf, West Germany, to produce and sell plastic extrusion equipment.5 By 1985, Van Dorn boasted 19 plants in seven states, Pureto Rico and Canada.1

On November 5, 1990, Van Dorn announced that it was closing its plastic injection molding machinery manufacturing plant at its 2685 79th Street location and consolidating it with a plant in Strongsville by January 1991.3 About 110 salaried and hourly workers were employed at the facility at the time of the announcement. At least 50 were scheduled to lose their jobs despite Van Dorn increasing employment at its Strongville plant. A dip in earnings for 1990 also brought about the need for relocation and modernization.4 It’s third-quarter earnings showed a 94% drop in its plastic machinery division, operating at a loss. The facility was also aging and not adept to handling modern assembly operations. In addition, much floorspace was not utilized due to advanced manufacturing methods that simplified the assembly process and cut the number of equipment required. The new production processes included simultaneous building and testing of its subassemblies, team assembly methods, a moving assembly line and the pre-painting of parts. It had considered modernizing the plant by replacing the wood block floors and creating a more compact floorplan.4

The company also announced that it was seeking to relocate its corporate offices from 2700 East 79th to a new building in the region, affecting 26 employees.3

In January 1992, the Crown Cork and Seal Company attempted to take over Van Dorn with a bid of $18 per share.10 That offer was rejected by Van Born’s board, as was a $20 per share offer. But Crown Cork and Seal persisted and offered $21 in stock or cash, valued at $175 million, and Van Dorn accepted the offer. The plastics division was sold to German-based Mannesmann AG, who developed the Van Dorn Demag Corporation as its American subsidiary. By 1995, Van Dorn employed 650 in the Cleveland region and maintained five plants in the United States.

Demolition

The Orlando Baking Company, which had operated on the east side of Cleveland since 1904, had relocated to 2685 79th Street to the five-story Van Dorn building in 1977.6 It  constructed new production buildings towards the western end of the Van Dorn complex but in the early 2010s, was running short of land and sought expansion space for a new production facility. At the time, production flowed east to west within the bakery, with raw materials delivered on the east side of the bakery and finished goods shipped from the west side. The bakery needed additional space for cold storage on the west side of the complex. Orlando pitched the idea to move maintenance and other functions to the east side of 79th Street, and to construct cold storage facilities on the west side of 79th Street at a total cost of $6 million to $10 million. Fifteen jobs would be created, and 40 positions would be retained.7

The bakery, as of 2013, used a portion of the five-story building for storage and office space.6 A one-story shipping building was used as a repair and fabrication shop for bakery machinery. Another Van Dorn building was demolished in the 1990’s for a gravel lot.

A Phase I and Phase II environmental assessment was conducted in 2011 on the former Van Dorn property on the east side of 79th Street, paid for in part by the Orlando.6 Based on the findings, several areas of the Van Dorn property required remediation to protect bakery workers. Elevated levels of semi-volatile organic compounds were detected, as was contaminated foundry sand that was dispersed throughout the site. The city of Cleveland and the Orlando Baking Company submitted a Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund application in January 2012, and requested up to $3 million for the demolition of the Van Dorn factory.6 The goal was to remediate the environmental conditions at the former factory and to allow the Orlando Bakery to expand to the east side of 79th Street.

In May 2012, the city received $1.3 million towards the demolition of the Van Dorn facilities.7

Demolition began in late 2012. As a requirement for the environmental cleanup process, a cap of two feet of clean soil is required in areas that is not covered with an asphalt surface or building.6

Digest
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Historical

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