The printing operations for the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, then the world’s largest magazine publishing house, was located on High Street in Springfield, Ohio.


History

John S. Crowell of Louisville, Kentucky, who worked in the Courier-Journal print shop and press room, relocated to Springfield in 1877 to print his Farm and Fireside magazine for agricultural implements that were manufactured by the P.P. Mast and Company. 3 8 44 Crowell was located in an office at the southeast corner of Warder and Limestone. 5 The magazine had blossomed by 1879 which led Crowell to form the Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick Company, with Crowell leading as general manager. Kirkpatrick was Mast’s nephew. 7

In 1880, the firm moved to the upper floors of the Republic Building (later home to the Edward Wren Company). 3 5 7 The company soon outgrew the building and moved to a three-story, 50,000 square-foot building along West High Street in 1891. 5

In 1885, Crowell added a second magazine known as Ladies Home Companion. 7 The magazine dated to 1873 when it was known as the Home Companion 8 and later known as Woman’s Home Companion. The company constructed an additional 75,000 square-feet of space to accommodate the presses for the magazine.

In 1911, the company launched The American Magazine. 1 Another expansion of the facility in 1915 brought the total amount of manufacturing and office space to more than 350,000 square feet. Additionally, a gas manufacturing plant was built to supplement natural gas for heating purposes. The company boasted over 2,000 employees.

Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick made its first significant acquisition in 1919 when it bought out the book and magazine publisher P.F. Collier, relocating their operations to Springfield. 7 8 48

Collier’s Weekly, formerly titled Once a Week, was formed in 1888 to promote P.F. Collier’s books. 7 8 48 During the first few years, issues of Collier’s Weekly were alternately thin and bulky because of the ongoing depression in the economy and a shortage of paper. 8 Under the editorial guidance of William Chenery, a staff was built up that reported on foreign news, and writers were engaged in writing upon controversial issues.

The firm added The Mentor magazine in 1921, and while initially popular, it did not live up to its lofty expectations and was sold in 1930. 7 Collier’s Weekly did attract new readers with its “short-short” 1,000-word articles, and by 1924, 1.4 million copies were rolling off the presses each week. 8 Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick was publishing 11.25 million magazines per month by 1926: Woman’s Home Companion sold over 2 million copies, The American had reached 2.4 million, and Farm and Fireside were holding steady at 1.2 million. Its payroll had expanded from $8,500 per week in 1916 to $46,500. 7

The company soon outgrew its physical plant again and constructed an eight-story Building J at West High Street and South Wittenberg Avenue in 1927, its most substantial expansion. 5 It was followed up with a signature tower known as Building K in 1928. The combined floor square footage of both buildings was approximately 726,000.

Breaking Even and Growth

It was not until 1929 that Collier’s was finally able to break even. 48 In 1931, Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick proclaimed that it held the hidden magazine audience in the nation.

On March 22, 6 the company announced that it had purchased the former Central School building between High and Washington streets and Lowry and Wittenberg avenues. The firm paid $1 million for the land, which the Board of Education used to build the Tiffany Gymnasium at the Springfield South High School in 1932. It subsequently demolished the building for a parking lot. 3 It also expanded with three floors of offices for its editorial, circulation, advertising, and executive departments at 250 Park Avenue in New York City. 47

In 1930, with a circulation of 1.825 million, 8 Farm and Fireside was renamed Country Home to try to broaden its appeal only to be discontinued by 1939. 7 By April 1937, Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick boasted a magazine audience of 9,496,841, the largest in the world. 47 In that year, its 122 presses printed 22,013,225,000 pages, consumed 158,771,000 pounds of paper costing $6,806,500, and used 3,468,000 pounds of ink costing $745,700.

In 1939, to reflect the merged operations of the Crowell and Collier companies, the corporate name was changed to the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company. 3 44 By 1940, the company was printing 20 million magazines per month. 7

The company dedicated its last extension, Building X at Main Street and Wittenberg Avenue, in April 1947. 5 9 With the completion of the building, total square footage topped 917,000. 7 8 Eight new high-speed colour gravure printing presses graced the inside of Building X. The new presses operated at a rate of 20,000 revolutions per hour, or 60,000 copies of an issue, 22.5 hours per day. 9 The presses consumed paper rolls 68 inches wide at a rate of three per hour or 72 rolls per day, the distance from New York to San Francisco if laid out.

The ground was broken for its new New York City offices 7 at Fifth Avenue and 51st Street in 1949 45 constructed by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. By 1952, Crowell-Collier was producing 20 million magazines per month. 6

Decline

Despite distributing millions of magazines per month, Crowell-Collier was in poor financial straits. In late 1952, Clarence Stouch, head of Crowell-Collier, approached the chief and general manager of the San-Francisco Chronicle, Paul C. Smith, to review its financials. 46 Crowell-Collier had begun to decline due to the advent of television, and the onslaught of newer magazines that appealed to younger audiences from other publishing houses. 8 10 Circulation figures were rising, but advertising revenue had not to offset rapidly increasing printing costs. 3 48 The flow of operational cash was drying up fast, and an unsecured bank loan of over $1 million was due in January 1954. 46 Although the company could make the payments, the bank would surely be reluctant to renew the deal. Without a new bank loan of $1.75 million, Crowell-Collier would be forced to make steep concessions or close.

For 1952, Crowell-Collier grossed $60 million in revenue but reported a $4 million loss. 46 Although total assets exceeded $42 million, liabilities totalled $32 million with less than $500,000 cash on hand.

To reduce costs, Collier’s went to a bi-monthly format in 1953. 48 54 A $2 million dividend that had been appropriated each year since 1932 to its shareholders ended.

On January 16, 1954, Smith was elected president of Crowell-Collier 46 49 54 who proclaimed that the future of the company was forever bright. 6 Not only had Collier’s added 800,000 new circulations since the switch to bi-monthly publication, but 100 new advertising accounts were also added to the roster. 54 The company reduced its losses by $2 million, or 45%, by the end of the year, but the need for more credit – $3.5 million, was abrupt. 46 49 50

By this point, Crowell-Collier’s stock was unlisted and selling for $5.50 per share to $6 per share. The company was able to borrow the needed cash from Bankers Trust Company and Chemical Corn Exchange in New York City, but in the spring of 1955, the banks warned Crowell-Collier that unless they could obtain long-term financing, that they would refuse to renew the $3.5 million loan. After several weeks of negotiations, Edward Elliot of the New York investment house, Elliott and Company 49 agreed to authorise the sale in the private placement of a $4 million issue of 5% debenture bonds, $3 million of which would be used to pay off immediate debts. 46 49 50 The sale, on August 10, 1955, provided a lifeline for the company.

Closure of Magazine Operations

Hints of another plant expansion surfaced on October 27, 1955, after the company showed a net profit of $755,000 for the year. 6 46 But its January 1956 showings were depressing: Crowell-Collier reported a loss of over $1 million. 46 The magazine division was losing $7.5 million per year, 10 50 55 although its book division had increased its sales to more than $25 million for 1954, an increase from $8 million total in 1953. Its book division was doing so well that a new Crowell-Collier office opened in Los Angles on March 4, 1956. 6

A tentative purchase agreement was signed between Crowell-Collier and Consolidated Television & Broadcasting on April 25. 46 Crowell-Collier placed $100,000 in earnest money into an escrow account. During the time, Crowell-Collier attempted to secure a pledge of $2 million for its fledging magazine division from its lenders for January 1957, and another $2 million for March and May. Two of the banks agreed to terms, but that left an $800,000 gap in cash from October to mid-December. Smith requested a loan from $500,000 and $300,000 from its two paper suppliers, which they agreed to for a term of 90 days.

On the eve of the signing of the Consolidated deal, it was revealed that revenue expectations for Crowell-Collier were $2.5 million less than expected. 46 The Consolidated deal collapsed and the banks and paper companies revoked their loan agreements. An attempt was made to sell 400,000 shares of Crowell-Collier common stock to Mike Cowles, then president and editor of Look magazine. The $2.4 million in shares would give Crowell-Collier time to rework its magazine division. Smith pitched the idea of merging Woman’s Home Companion with McCall’s and Look with Collier’s. With the latter proposal, Look and Collier’s would retain their separate identities but be printed in turns bi-weekly. 8 36 Cowles rejected the proposal but offered to lend the Crowell-Collier company $2 million against the Springfield printing plant pending its sale. Upon suspension of the publication of Collier’s, Cowles would pay $1 million for the title and another $1 million for the subscription list, and assume the total cost of the unfulfilled subscription liability.

Cowles proposal would keep its profitable book division but end Companion and Collier’s. 46 A group of directors, bondholders and stockholders had been holding secret meetings at a hotel and attempted to fire Smith. Undeterred by the criticism, Smith barged into one of the hidden meetings to present Cowles proposal. The executive committee looked at it and recommended its acceptance to the full board, who then authorised Smith to proceed with its implementation.

In August, The American was discontinued, and on December 14, after a tense six-hour meeting of the board of directors,55 Crowell-Collier voted to cease publication of Woman’s Home Companion and Collier’s 2 8 with the desire to just publish books. 3 5 The elimination of the magazine division left 2,275 employees without jobs. 13 The company agreed to pay severance pay to editorial, circulation and advertising employees in the New York City offices after they filed suit in March 1957, 56 but not to the workers in the publishing plant in Springfield. 36 Smith had resigned soon after the decision was made and gave up his stock options along with any further money due on his contract, offering the money back into a fund to provide a settlement for the Springfield employees that were affected. 46

The final issue of Collier’s, dated January 4, 1957, hit the newsstands on December 20, ending 68 years of publication. 36

Crowell-Collier’s magazine operations were maintained with just six employees tasked with answering subscription inquiries and complaints until October 1, 1958. 37 The Springfield plant continued to print trade publications and catalogues for a short duration but those operations were eventually relocated. 53 The profitable encyclopedia and book division of Crowell-Collier were merged with Macmillan Inc. in December 1960. 44

White Elephant

The city declined interest in purchasing the Crowell-Collier buildings for use as government offices in February 1957, believing that the property would be more valuable as an industrial site. 31

At a special shareholders meeting on March 20, a vote was taken in favor, 1,346,466 to 20,538, of selling the Springfield plant for $3,894,374 to R.R. Donnelley & Sons of Chicago who expressed interest in removing the printing equipment for relocation to a Donnelley facility. 34 41 51 52 The proceeds would be used to pay off $1,725,783 in notes secured by mortgages and other liabilities by Crowell-Collier.

The General Services Administration (GSA) began a search for a larger building in 1958, and a study concluded that some federal operations could be housed at the former Crowell-Collier plant. But because the GSA would occupy less than 40% of the total floor space available, the factory was not recommended to the GSA. 41

On March 28, 1959, 2 5 33 38 40 Donnelley donated the complex to the University of Chicago who then spent nearly a 15 years trying to find someone to rent, lease or purchase the building whole or in parts, with a starting price of $1.5 million. 19 40 Over 3,000 brochures were mailed out with little success, and despite the assistance of industrial realtors, few nibbled at the massive building. 39 The university found it impossible to rid itself of the liability due to a lack of railroad service that was removed in the 1960’s and its multi-story structure that made it inefficient to manage. 3

The city began an effort to establish a regional worker retraining centre in the building in 1963 but was not successful. 21

A report that was released on March 10, 1965, stated that the most probable use for the massive structure would either be as a distribution centre or as a warehouse. 28 In May 1966, Governor James A. Rhodes urged the use of the non-profit Community Improvement Corporation to find a tenant for the Crowell-Collier building and suggested that the University of Chicago donate the plant to the development group. 26 29

In July 1967, Ohio House Rep. Charles E. Fry of Springfield introduced legislation that would allow Ohio manufacturers to store goods destined for shipment outside of the state in warehouses without liability for payment of tangible personal property taxes. The legislation would encourage the use of warehousing facilities in the state, including the Crowell-Collier building. 22 23 That idea failed to gain any sizable traction.

The city expressed interest in the property in 1971 2 25 and in August, the city received the go-ahead to negotiate with the University of Chicago for the property. Springfield offered $225,000 for the property, which was declined. The city then upped the offer by $50,000 and the university agreed to sell the complex on September 28, 1972. 16

The city then announced that it would demolish the complex for low and moderate income housing. 4 14 16 18 25 The city had not applied for or received approval of funds from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Agency (HUD) for such a project, and such funding would not be available at the earliest until July 1974. 15 Demolition costs were first estimated at $175,000 in 1972, 27 later revised to $250,000. 16

On November 6, the city met with Harry C. Denune, a Columbus businessman who expressed interest in purchasing the former Crowell-Collier buildings. 4 14 15 20 43 Denune, who controlled Dixie International, Dixie Distributing, Dixie Importing, Dixie Manufacturing, Chain Corporation and Sno-Hobby, offered to buy the building. Denune offered to pay $250,000, hinting that four recreational vehicle companies would be interested in locating in the vast complex: Dixie International of Columbus, in which Denune had half interest; McCulty & Associates of Columbus, a subcontractor for Denune; Cliff’s Welding & Manufacturing of Columbus, another subcontractor; and a Japanese manufacturer and distributor of recreational vehicle parts. Denune stated that the companies occupied 300,000 square feet in Columbus, but needed an additional 100,000 square feet.4 12

City Commissioner Max E. Cordle believed that the city should finalize purchase of the Crowell-Collier from the university rather than sell to Denune, as the Crowell-Collier Building was “a negative trademark of the city – an ugly scar, a constant reminder to all the people of economic failure.” 15 But Denune was able to acquire the complex in December for $250,000 12 43 and began repairs to the buildings in January 1973 11 with the goal of moving his Columbus manufacturing operations into the building by April. Work included the replacement and repair of the truck docks, heating and electrical systems, elevators, roofs, sprinkler systems, doors, windows, sidewalks, and masonry. 12 By 1989, Denune was using the space as a distribution centre for Dixie Distributing to fulfil orders for Harley-Davidson. 30

Partial Demolition

In 1997, the Crowell-Collier property was added to Springfield’s “brownfield” list of redevelopment projects. 17 That came after Denune agreed to pay $35,000 as part of an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency due to the mishandling of chemicals stored on the site. 30 Partially because of the improper storage of chemicals, a general-alarm fire that began just after 10 a.m. on May 10, 1999, raged on for over eight hours. 17 31 The fire set off several chemical piles that led to small explosions.

Another fire in 2011 led Judge Richard O’Neill to declare that the Crowell-Collier property was a public nuisance due to numerous code violations. 57 58 In August, Denune signed a court order with the city agreeing to remove all asbestos by November 20 and to clear out more than one-million square feet of inventory within a year. That would allow for the court-ordered demolition of Building F containing an abandoned coal-fired power plant. Denune then sold the property to Mosier Industrial Services for $1.5 million in September. 57 58 Inventory removal began soon after and asbestos mitigation started on October 24.

Mosier was slow at removing the inventory and removing Building F, leading the city to file a complaint against the company in July 2012. 59 The city went to court in March 2014, where it was ordered that Mosier pay $800 per day if it missed new extended deadlines for cleaning out the building. In May, the city filed a contempt motion because of more missed deadlines.

Mosier was found in contempt in July and was ordered to pay a $15,000 fine. The court then ordered that Mosier remove all contents, asbestos, electrical circuits, and plumbing fixtures by October 31. 59 The court also required Mosier to submit a plan to replace the roof on Buildings J and K by August 8, but the company informed the court that it was going to demolish the buildings instead.

Building F was razed in early 2015, followed by Buildings J and K along South Lowry Avenue. 60


Gallery

Historic

Current

Sources
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