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.
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 & Fireside magazine for agricultural implements that were manufactured by the P.P. Mast & Company. 3 8 44 Crowell was located in an office at the southeast corner of Warder and Limestone. 5 By 1879, the magazine had blossomed which led Crowell to form the Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick Company. (Kirkpatrick was Mast’s nephew. 7) It moved to the upper floors of the Republic Building (later home to the Edward Wren Company) in 1880, 3 5 7 but outgrew the space and relocated to a three-story building on West High Street in 1891. 5
Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick added Ladies Home Companion in 1885. 7 The magazine was first published as Home Companion in 1873 8 and later as Woman’s Home Companion. The firm then launched The American Magazine in 1911. 1 By 1915, the Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick occupied more than 350,000 square feet of office and printing press space and boasted over 2,000 employees.
The company made its first significant acquisition in 1919 when it bought out the book and magazine publisher P.F. Collier and relocated their operations to Springfield. 7 8 48 Collier was best known for Collier’s Weekly, a publication was started as Once a Week in 1888 to promote Collier’s books. 7 8 48
During the first few years after the acquisition, 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 controversial issues.
Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick 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 with 1.4 million copies rolling off the presses each week by 1924. 8 The company was publishing 11¼ million magazines per month by 1926: Woman’s Home Companion sold over 2 million copies, The American had reached 2.4 million, and Farm & Fireside was holding steady at 1.2 million.
The company soon outgrew its physical plant again and constructed Building J, an eight-story structure at West High Street and South Wittenberg Avenue, in 1927, and Building K in 1928. 5
Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick purchased the former Central School building between High and Washington Street and Lowry and Wittenberg Avenue for $1 million on March 22, 6 and subsequently demolished the structure for a parking lot. 3 It also added three floors of offices for its editorial, circulation, advertising, and executive departments at 250 Park Avenue in New York City. 47
Facing sliding readership, 8 Farm & Fireside was renamed Country Home in 1930 to try to broaden its appeal, 8 but it was discontinued by 1939. 7 By April 1937, Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick boasted a magazine audience of nearly 9.5 million, making it the largest publication firm 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 million pounds of ink costing $745,700.
To reflect the merged operations of the Crowell and Collier companies, the corporate name was changed to Crowell-Collier Publishing Company in 1939. 3 44
Crowell-Collier dedicated Building X, its newest expansion, at Main Street and Wittenberg Avenue in April 1947, 5 9 which included the installation of eight new high-speed color gravure printing presses that operated at a rate of 20,000 revolutions per hour, or 60,000 copies of an issue, 22½ 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 ground was broken for its new New York City offices 7 at Fifth Avenue and 51st Street in 1949. 45
Despite distributing up to 20 million magazines per month, Crowell-Collier was in poor financial straits because of the advent of television and the onslaught of newer magazines that appealed to younger audiences from other publishing houses. 8 10 While circulation figures were rising, advertising revenue had not. Printing costs were rapidly increasing, 3 48 and the flow of operational cash was drying up. Additionally, a $1 million unsecured bank loan was due in January 1954 and without a new loan of $1.75 million, the company was facing steep concessions or outright closure. 46
For 1952, Crowell-Collier grossed $60 million in revenue but reported a $4 million loss. 46 Although total assets exceeded $42 million, the company had liabilities of $32 million and had less than $500,000 cash on hand. To reduce costs, Collier’s switched to a bi-monthly schedule in 1953 and a $2 million dividend that had been appropriated each year since 1932 to its shareholders ended. 48 54
The switch to a bi-monthly publication for Collier’s resulted in the addition of 800,000 new subscriptions and 100 new advertising accounts by 1954. 54 The company reduced its losses by 45% by the end of the year, but the need for more credit – $3.5 million, was abrupt. 46 49 50 The company was able to borrow the needed cash from the Bankers Trust Company and Chemical Corn Exchange in New York City, but the banks warned Crowell-Collier in early 1955 that unless they could obtain long-term financing, that they would refuse to renew any additional loans.
On August 10, 1955, after several weeks of negotiations, New York investment house Elliott & Company 49 provided a lifeline for Crowell-Collier, authorizing the sale of $4 million of 5% debenture bonds, $3 million of which would be used to pay off immediate debts. 46 49 50
Although the year 1955 was initially profitable, 6 46 the Crowell-Collier ended the year $1 million in the red. 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 in 1953. Its book division was doing so well that a new Crowell-Collier office opened in Los Angeles 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. For January 1957, Crowell-Collier attempted to secure a pledge of $2 million from its lenders for its fledgling magazine division and another $2 million for March and May. Two of the banks agreed to terms, but it left an $800,000 gap in cash between October to mid-December. The company requested a loan from $500,000 and $300,000 from its two paper suppliers, which they agreed to for a term of 90 days.
It was revealed that revenue expectations for Crowell-Collier were $2.5 million less than expected on the eve of the signing of the Consolidated deal, which led to a collapse of the proposal and the revocation of the loans that had been earlier secured. 46 An attempt was made to sell 400,000 shares of Crowell-Collier common stock to Mike Cowles, then president and editor of Look magazine, which would give Crowell-Collier time to rework its magazine division. The company considered merging Woman’s Home Companion with McCall’s and Look with Collier’s. 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 pending its sale. 8 36 Cowles would keep the profitable book division but end the publication of Collier’s and Woman’s Home Companion, pay $1 million for the titles, and another $1 million for the subscription lists. 46
In August, The American was discontinued and after a tense six-hour meeting of the board of directors on December 14, 55 Crowell-Collier voted to cease publication of Collier’s and Woman’s Home Companion. 2 8 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 After 68 years, the final issue of Collier’s, dated January 4, 1957, hit the newsstands on December 20. 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 catalogs 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
Believing that the property would be more valuable as an industrial site, the city declined interest in purchasing the Crowell-Collier buildings for use as government offices in February 1957. 31 On March 20, Crowell-Collier voted to sell the Springfield plant to R.R. Donnelley & Sons of Chicago for $3.9 million. 34 41 51 52 The company had expressed interest in removing the printing equipment for relocation to another Donnelley facility. The proceeds would be used to pay off $1.725 million in notes secured by mortgages and other liabilities.
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 for use by the GSA. 41
Donnelley donated the former printing complex to the University of Chicago on March 28, 1959, 2 5 33 38 40 who worked with industrial realtors and mailed over 3,000 brochures to prospective clients over 15 years in an attempt to find someone to rent, lease or purchase the buildings whole or in parts, with a starting price of $1.5 million. 19 39 40 Its mammoth size led to few serious contenders for the complex. 3
The city attempted to establish a regional worker retraining center in the building in 1963 but was not successful. 21 A report released in March 1965 concluded that the most probable use for the massive Crowell-Collier plant would either be as a distribution center or warehouse 28 and in May 1966, Governor Rhodes suggested that the university donate the complex to the non-profit Community Improvement Corporation. 26 29
The city expressed interest in the Crowell-Collier property in 1971 and initially offered $225,000 for the complex, 2 25 and the university agreed to sell the complex for $250,000 on September 28, 1972. 16 After obtaining ownership, the city announced that it would demolish the complex for low and moderate-income housing, although it had not applied for or received approval of funds from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Agency (HUD) for such a project. 4 14 15 16 18 25 Demolition costs were estimated between $175,000 27 and $250,000. 16
The city met with Harry C. Denune, a Columbus businessman who expressed interest in purchasing the former Crowell-Collier buildings, on November 6. 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 for $250,000. Inside the complex would be Dixie International, in which Denune had half interest, McCulty & Associates, a subcontractor for Denune, Cliff’s Welding & Manufacturing, another subcontractor, and a Japanese manufacturer and distributor of recreational vehicle parts. 4 12
The transaction was completed in December 12 43 and Denune 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 center for Dixie Distributing to fulfill orders for Harley-Davidson. 30
The former Crowell-Collier property was added to Springfield’s “brownfield” list of redevelopment projects in 1997, 17 which 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 The improper storage of chemicals led to a fire on May 10, 1999. 17 31 Raging on for over eight hours, it set off several piles of chemicals that led to small explosions. Another fire in 2011 led the courts to declare that the facility was a public nuisance because of numerous code violations. 57 58
Denune signed a court order with the city in August and agreed to begin removing asbestos from the buildings by November 20 and clear out more than a million square feet of inventory within a year in preparation for a court-ordered demolition of Building F, which contained a disused coal power plant. 57 58 Denune sold the old Crowell-Collier property to Mosier Industrial Services for $1.5 million in September, and work to vacate the buildings and remove asbestos began on October 24.
The city filed a complaint against Mosier in July 2012 over the slowness of the project and similarly went to court in March and May 2014 for the same reasons. 59 The company was found in contempt of court 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 inside the complex by October 31 and that Mosier submit a plan to replace the roof on Buildings J and K along South Lowry Avenue. 59
Building F, the power plant, was razed in early 2015, followed by Buildings J and K. 60
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
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