Exploring Crowell-Collier

Back in 2010, I was able to visit the former printing operation for the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, once the world’s largest magazine publishing house, in Springfield, Ohio. There, I met Harry Denune, who owned Dixie Distributing, a major distributor of closeout motorbike and manufacturer parts that operated out of the complex.

Harry C. Denune
Former owner Harry C. Denune.

The office of his empire was most impressive. Between the photos of his children, models of antique cars and motorbikes, and boxes of automotive parts lay a proud American who worked his way up and became a self-made millionaire. Wearing his trademark eagle belt buckle, blue denim pants, and a collared shirt, Denune was genuine and heartfelt in describing the company. Harry had purchased the entire stock of Harley-Davidson spare parts from the U.S. Army surplus after World War II ended, essentially becoming a distributor for increasingly rare components that commanded top dollar. In 1981, Harry purchased most of the parts inventories for Harley-Davidson AMF after it had filed for bankruptcy.

In 2013, Harry Denune died at the age of 90. His mainstay, Dixie Distributing, no longer exists, but another of his companies, Dixie International, thrives as a wholesale motorbike part dealer.

Exploring the 900,000 square feet facility was akin to stepping back into the middle of the 20th century. Relics of times gone by were abound, such as coal-fed boilers, hand-lettered signs, porcelain light fixtures, mid-century furnishings, and more.

Of course, that was years ago. I was finally able to revisit the remains of the Crowell-Collier plant after three buildings were removed—still leaving some 400,000 square feet of building left. With the sun setting on the horizon, I ventured through the complex as efficiently as possible, which was difficult considering its size and height. Climbing stairs on a hot and humid evening was no fun task. I recalled my prior visit as I ascended and how little the building had changed. Other than the contents of Mr. Denune’s business being emptied after he passed, it was as I had remembered it.

Most floors were bare to the walls. Considering that the printing operations ceased in the 1950s, I was not expecting to find any equipment, much less anything remotely related to Crowell-Collier. I did find most floors were adorned with a mixture of wood paneling, peeling lead paint, folding doors, banks of windows, unique light fixtures, sliding fire doors, and safes. The combination of eras, given that the complex was built over a period of 30 years, creating a unique blend of a mass warehouse, mid-century modern, and early 20th-century vintage design.

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I noticed the Crowell-Collier site when I looked around Springfield on December 8 as it was being demolished and wondered what it had been. I wrote to the Heritage Center of Clark County, and they sent me links to the newspaper articles about it. I took a picture of what was left and wondered if the tower was doomed.

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