Regan Development’s plan to repurpose a warehouse complex at 19 Doat Street into 74-unit apartments and a neighborhood health clinic is under review by City officials. Built in 1912-13 for the Monarch Knitting Company, the factory was subsequently owned by two other important local industrial concerns, the Spencer Lens Company, and the Royal Bedding Company all of whom used the factory as a major manufacturing site. Preservation Studios, working on the historic preservation tax credit components, has documented the history of the complex below.
The Monarch Knitting Company Building, consisting of a large building with several additions, sits on a two-acre parcel at the southeast corner of Genesee and Doat Streets on Buffalo’s East Side, three-and-a-half miles northeast of downtown and half a mile northeast of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.
Genesee Street, a primary traffic radial in this part of the city, runs northeast to southwest and was once a primary commercial strip on the East Side though it has since declined and is now somewhat sparsely populated with a mix of residences and small commercial enterprises. The surrounding area in each direction is primarily residential and composed of frame housing stock that dates from the mid-nineteenth-century to the early twentieth-century. One block east of the intersection of Genesee Street and the east-west running Doat Street, however, a rail spur runs due north and has light industrial enterprises located to either side.
The Monarch Knitting Company Building occupies a parcel half a block in size, bordered by Doat Street to the north, Lansdale Place to the south, Rustic Place to the west, and a narrow cemetery between it and the rail spur to the east. Its sprawling components are concentrated in the southwest quadrant of the parcel, built to the lot line, with asphalt paving and parking areas in the northeast quadrant.
In 1912, the Monarch Knitting Company erected the original building at the northwest corner of the parcel, facing north onto Doat Street. It measures six bays wide by fourteen bays deep and is a four-story red brick daylight factory building with a tall raised basement and a flat roof. At each floor, it has regular single window openings with a concrete sill, a jack arched lintel, and original six-over-nine double-hung wood sash windows. Only modestly articulated, the building sits on a fieldstone foundation and has brick quoins at the corners, paired windows at the second and third floors on the long side elevations, and a camel-back clay tile coping above a short parapet.
In 1916, the Monarch Knitting Company doubled the size of their factory by constructing a thirteen-bay addition, identical to the original building. Once the addition was complete, the factory stretched from the northern lot line at Doat Street to the southern lot line at Lansdale Place and presented a continuous, regular façade along Rustic Place.
Permit card indicate that a small garage was built in 1916 east of the factory at the southern lot line, but it is no longer extant. To the north of this garage, a large Dye House addition was built for the factory ca. 1918 extending east from the center of the 1916 Addition. Shortly afterwards, in 1920, a Boiler House was added, extending south from the eastern end of the Dye House. The Dye House is rectangular in shape and six bays wide by four bays deep. It contains a tall, single story volume topped by a prominent monitor and has a steel frame clad in red brick. A large arched opening is present in each bay for ample day light and is articulated with an arched lintel in yellow brick. A parapet wraps the building and features a panelized motif picked out in yellow brick with a yellow cast stone coping above. On the two short sides of the building, the parapet steps up into a small pediment with a pair of windows at the center in order to incorporate the roof monitor.
The Boiler House building to the south is similar in style, if a little different in size at two stories in height and two bays wide by three bays deep. It, too, has a steel frame with a red brick exterior and large, though trabeated, openings in each bay on each face. Its bays are framed by shallow brick pilasters and a parapet matching that of the Dye House wraps the top of the building. Just to the north, a small area of about fifteen feet square is present between the Dye House and the Boiler House. From this space, a tall round chimney stack with a diameter of twelve feet rises four stories in the air.
Further north on the site, two elevators towers were added in 1953 at the south end of the east elevation of the original building. Both are fairly discrete in appearance as they are set well back from the primary façade and, while the brick is not a close match to the earlier variegated red brick, both have a solid red brick face on each side.
Though the building has changed hands several times over the course of its history, the interior remains quite intact to its original appearance. Currently, it being used primarily as a warehouse and so no new partitions have been added, leaving the rooms open as they would have been originally. Throughout, the interiors are consistent across the different portions and have open floor plans flooded with natural light from the many windows and regularly punctuated by columns.
The building has a wood post-and-beam structure on the interior with painted brick walls at the perimeter, hardwood floors, exposed beams and decking at the ceiling, and square wood columns throughout supporting the structure. All of the wood structure and decking has been painted white, making the spacious interior volumes very bright. At the first floor and the basement of the building, the floor is concrete. In some locations, original light fixtures still hang from the ceiling and piping and ducting is exposed throughout.
The Monarch Knitting Company (1912-1923)
The Monarch Knitting Company formed in 1903 in Dunnville, Ontario, Canada as a textile company specializing in hand knitted yarn and outerwear. The company expanded quickly and within a decade was the largest employer in Dunnville with over 500 employees. Within ten years the Monarch Knitting Company had factories in St. Catharines and St. Thomas, Ontario. In 1910 the Monarch Knitting Company opened its first factory in America at 895 Niagara Street in Buffalo. 200 people were employed at the Niagara Street factory, however by 1912 the company had outgrown the building and sought out a new location.
The Monarch Knitting Company Factory at 19 Doat Street was built between 1912 and 1913. Construction of the factory cost $38,000 and contractor Robert E. Williams oversaw the work. Upon its completion the Monarch Knitting Company touted the building as ‘The First and Only Sweater Mill in Buffalo.’ In 1916 the Monarch Knitting Company expanded the factory, doubling its length. The new addition cost $40,000 and Williams once again oversaw the work. In that same year Williams also built a small garage for the company facing Lansdale Place. In 1918 the Monarch Knitting Company built a $22,000 dye and boiler house. The dye and boiler house were added to help the company complete its sizable contracts for the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
In addition to its wartime contracts with the American military, the Monarch Knitting Company sold knit goods to companies involved in the wholesale textile trade. The product line included sweaters, bathing suits, coats, and hats. These items were sold throughout the United States and Canada and the Monarch Knitting Company’s selling agents had offices in major cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Atlanta. By 1922 500 workers were employed in the factory at Doat Street. In 1923 the company sold the factory to the Navy Knitting Mill for $350,000.
Ultimately, purchasing the factory overextended the Navy Knitting Mill’s credit and the company went bankrupt within a year. After the Navy Knitting Mill folded, Loblaw’s, a grocery chain, briefly used the Monarch Knitting Company Factory as a warehouse. By 1926 the factory had been purchased by the Spencer Lens Company, the building’s next significant owner.
The Spencer Lens Company (1926-1946)
The Spencer Lens Company was an optics firm that specialized in the manufacture of microscopes, telescopes, and other specialized lenses. Charles Spencer founded the company in 1852 in Canisteo, New York and in 1895 the firm incorporated in Buffalo with Charles Spencer’s son Herbert and Dr. Roswell Park as chief officers. Park’s influence and position as a Professor of Surgery at the University at Buffalo helped sustain the company by promoting the company’s optical devices to laboratories, hospitals, and schools. By 1920 the company manufactured its products in the Niagara Manufacturing Buildings at 442 Niagara Street in Buffalo. The company shared space in the complex with the Buffalo Manufacturing Company, B.F. Stinson & Company, and a number of small unnamed manufacturing concerns.
In 1926 the Spencer Lens Company purchased the Monarch Knitting Company Factory for $250,000 and moved into the building in May 1926. The move allowed the company to increase its output and by 1927 the firm had 350 employees and annual profits of over one million dollars. In 1935 the American Optical Company of Southbridge, Massachusetts bought the Spencer Lens Company, though the firm continued to operate under its own name for at least another decade.
In 1938 the Spencer Lens Company purchased a twenty-five acre site in Cheektowaga and built a new plant. Initially the Cheektowaga plant produced mechanical parts while the Monarch Knitting Company Factory continued to house the company’s executive offices, research and development divisions, and assembly and inspection departments. The Cheektowaga plant expanded throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s and the Spencer Lens Company steadily transferred more employees and business departments to the plant. By 1943 only around twenty percent of the company’s employees worked at Doat Street and the company planned to consolidate operations in Cheektowaga.
In 1943 the firm sold the factory to the Royal Bedding Company. Instead of immediately vacating the factory, the Spencer Lens Company continued to occupy the building, leasing space from the Royal Bedding Company. This arrangement was necessary because the Spencer Lens Company had multiple war contracts and needed to maximize its production for the military.
Leading up to and during World War II the Spencer Lens Company produced equipment for the military. In 1939 the firm filled a $70,000 order for telescopes and spare parts for the artillery corps, and in 1940 the army paid the Spencer Lens Company $43,000 for azimuth instruments. During the war, the Spencer Lens Company supplied the military with range finding devices, binoculars, microscopes, turret gun sights, periscopes, and fire control instruments. Most of these products were produced at the Cheektowaga Plant, however the company’s executive offices and polishing departments occupied the Monarch Knitting Company Factory for the duration of the war.
The Royal Bedding Company (1946-2010)
The Royal Bedding Company was the longest tenured occupant of the Monarch Knitting Company Factory. The Royal Bedding Company was founded in 1923 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. From 1946 until 2010 the firm manufactured beds, sofas, and other pieces of upholstered furniture inside the Monarch Knitting Company Factory. The firm purchased the Monarch Knitting Company Factory in 1943 and occupied it in 1946. After occupying the factory, the firm expanded its workforce significantly and modernized the building. The firm completed its modernization campaign in 1954, adding 10,000 square feet of showroom space, new elevators, and unloading facilities. By 1957 the factory averaged an annual profit of two-million dollars and mattresses made at the Monarch Knitting Company Factory were sold in cities throughout the Great Lakes region.
Starting in 1946 the Royal Bedding Company leased 30,000 square feet of space in the Monarch Knitting Company Factory to the Bond Clothing Stores. Bond Clothing Stores were a men’s clothing company with retail stores throughout the United States and twelve plants. In Buffalo the company had a store at 369 Main Street. After leasing space in the Monarch Knitting Company Factory, Bond set up a finishing shop inside the building that employed over 800 people in the manufacture of coats.
Architectural Analysis of the Monarch Knitting Company Factory
The Monarch Knitting Company Factory is an excellent example of a textile mill erected with semi-mill construction and retains a number of key features associated with textile mill architecture in the early twentieth century. Semi-mill construction is a construction method construction engineer C.E. Paul described as:
Floors of heavy plank laid flat upon large beams which are spaced from 4 to 10 feet on centers and supported by girders spaced as far apart as the loading will allow. These girders are carried by wood posts or columns located as far apart as consistent with the general design of the building. A spacing of from 20 to 25 feet is not uncommon for columns in this class of framing where the load is not excessive.
The placement of wood columns and beams inside the Monarch Knitting Company Factory fit Paul’s description. The factory’s heavy timber beams are spaced roughly six feet apart while the columns are spaced every twelve feet. This arrangement gave the Monarch Knitting Company open spaces necessary to house spinning and weaving equipment. Additionally, the use of heavy timber framing was important to for vibration control. Because textile mills relied on heavy machines to spin thousands of yards of wool and cotton each day, mills needed to withstand hours of intense vibration. Though capable of supporting a greater load, cast iron columns lacked the elasticity necessary to withstand hours of vibration, and wood remained the only viable support system in mills like the Monarch Knitting Company Factory.
In addition to their use in vibration control, wood beams, columns, and girders were important for fire prevention. Though heavy timbers were flammable, the thickness of these beams slowed the spread of any fire. Engineers highlighted the strength of wood, showing charred wood beams that continued supporting their load next to iron girders that had warped due to heat.
Utilizing heavy timber frame construction was not the only method of fireproofing the Monarch Knitting Company employed. Like many knitting mills, the Monarch Knitting Company Factory had protruding towers that housed staircases and elevators. Because stairwells and elevator shafts could act as flues during a fire, external stairs, divided from the factory floor by fireproof doors, were commonly utilized in textile mills; exterior stairs had the added benefit of freeing additional floor space in the factory. In the Monarch Knitting Company Factory the staircase and elevator towers were built at the rear of the 1912 and 1916 additions.
In addition to its heavy timber frame construction, the Monarch Knitting Company Factory possesses other features indicative of a textile mill. The building occupies a corner lot in a largely residential neighborhood and is significantly taller than the nearby residences ensuring workers had ample light throughout the building. Additionally, the factory has banks of regularly spaced windows, the largest of which are on the third and fourth floors, where the Monarch Knitting Company’s knitting machines operated.
The emphasis on open spaces for heavy weaving machinery, vibration mitigation, fire control, and lighting defined textile mill design principles in the early twentieth century. The Monarch Company Knitting Factory reflects these principles clearly with its semi-mill construction, heavy timber frame support system, and long banks of windows.
The Monarch Knitting Company Factory is locally significant in Criterion A in Industry for housing three significant industrial firms, the Monarch Knitting Company, the Spencer Lens Company, and the Royal Bedding Company. The Monarch Knitting Company, a Canadian textile firm, built the factory, occupying the building until 1923. The company manufactured knit goods such as socks, sweaters, and hats. In 1926 the Spencer Lens Company, a firm specializing in microscopes, telescopes, and other optical instruments, purchased the factory and utilized the building until 1946. The Royal Bedding Company was the final tenant of the Monarch Knitting Company Factory and occupied the building from 1946 until 2010. The firm specialized in mattresses and upholstered furniture and used the factory as a primary manufacturing site. The factory was crucial to the operations of each firm and in the case of the Spencer Lens Company; it housed every component of the company’s manufacturing process from 1926 to 1938.
The building is also locally significant in Criterion C in Architecture as a highly intact example of early twentieth century textile mill. The factory was built using semi-mill construction, a construction method that allowed builder Robert E. Williams to maximize the space between wooden support columns. Textile mills like the Monarch Knitting Company Factory relied on large machines to spin products and increasing the available space for these machines dominated the design process for textile mills. In addition to its intact semi-mill construction, the factory still retains many other details associated with textile mill construction. These details include a heavy timber frame support system, exterior stairwells to reduce fire risks, and long banks of windows to maximize light exposure inside the factory.
The period of significance for the Monarch Knitting Company Factory stretches from 1912 to 1954. This period of significance begins with the construction of the factory in 1912 and ends with a large renovation campaign undertaken by the Royal Bedding Company in 1954. This period encompasses all major architectural changes to the factory as well as the building’s greatest period of industrial activity.