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Landmarking: Wonder Bread Factory

The Preservation Board took the first step towards designating the Wonder Bread Factory located at 356 Fourgeron Street as a local landmark.  The bakery was built from 1914 to 1915 and designed by architect and engineer Corry B. Comstock. Ward & Ward Incorporated, predecessor to the Continental Baking Company, maker of Wonder Bread and Hostess Cakes, was the original applicant.

From the Landmarking Application:

The Wonder Bread Factory is located on a 2.88 acre site bounded by Fougeron Street, Barthel Street, Urban Street, and the New York Central Belt Line. The plant is five stories in height (with a raised basement level) facing Fougeron Street, two stories in height at a rear section extending to Urban Street, and contains a gross floor area of 134,000 square feet. The building is constructed of steel reinforced concrete, features a flat roof, and is clad in blond brick.

The factory is modelled after the Ward Baking Company bakery built in Brooklyn from 1910 to 1911. This “snow white temple of bread-making cleanliness” designed by Corry B. Comstock became the model for the “scientific and sanitary” bakeries built by the Ward family interests across the United States in the early twentieth century.

William B. and Howard B. Ward of Ward & Ward Incorporated built the Buffalo plant. Both worked as apprentices for their father Robert B. Ward, president of the Ward Baking Company, and branched off on their own in 1912 to establish bakeries in Buffalo (Ward & Ward Incorporated) and Rochester (Ward Brothers Bakery). When the Ward & Ward factory opened in 1915, the Buffalo Courier called it “the finest bakery in the world-better than any bakery Chicago or New York city can boast.” The plant reportedly had a daily capacity of 100,000 loaves plus 50,000 cakes and 20,000 rolls. “Every housewife,” wrote the Courier, “will be intensely interested in watching this bread making on a gigantic scale as she traces the familiar moves she herself makes in the kitchen, but with everything a thousand fold larger.”

Like the Ward Baking Company, Ward & Ward advertised an industrial process free from human touch-“so perfect is the breadmaking machinery,” wrote the Courier, “that only once during the whole process will the white-gloved hands of the bakers touch a loaf until the bread is sealed in its wax airtight wrappers.” Employing the slogan “Fresh from Our Ovens to Your Table,” Ward & Ward pioneered a system of factory to home delivery by “clean electric automobiles.”

From this more humble Buffalo beginning William B. Ward launched the largest baking concern in the United States. In 1921, he formed the United Bakeries Corporation to undertake an aggressive string of bakery acquisitions, and in 1924 reorganized the firm as the Continental Baking Company. In 1925, the Continental Baking Company acquired the Taggart Baking Company, makers of Wonder Bread. By 1928 Continental held 98 plants in 41 cities and was the country’s largest producer.

The Buffalo plant expresses the Ward ideals. The blond brick, offering little foothold for soot and dirt, was intended to represent a standard of cleanliness maintained within. Elements associated with Renaissance architecture, typically reserved for banks and civic buildings, attempted to communicate tradition and trust. Repeating vertical bays of window openings are set back behind piers, with Roman inspired round arch windows framed by ornamental brickwork on the fifth story, and rectangular windows below. To the rear of the main building, near the Belt Line, a smokestack reads “Ward’s Bread” on the north and south faces. An originally illuminated, red “WONDER BREAD” roof sign faces south, and currently reads “WO D R READ” due to the removal of three letters.

The Interstate Bakeries Corporation acquired the Continental Baking Company in 1995, and declared bankruptcy in 2004, closing plants across the United States. The Buffalo plant closed, too, with barely any notice in the local press. Since 2004, the Wonder Bread Factory has been vacant and deteriorating, but retains a high degree of integrity and is worthy of preservation and restoration.

1849: Hugh Ward opens a one-oven shop on Broome Street in Manhattan
1878: Robert B. Ward, Hugh Ward’s son, opens a bakery in Pittsburgh
1890: Robert B. Ward and his brother George S. Ward form the R.B. Ward & Company
1898: R.B. Ward & Company reincorporates as the Ward-Mackey Company
1903: The Ward-Mackey Company builds reportedly the largest bread factory in America in Pittsburgh
1909: Robert B. and George S. Ward reorganize the Ward-Mackey Company as the Ward Bread Company with the goal of opening bakeries in New York City
1911: Ward Baking Company completes its Brooklyn factory, designed by C.B. Comstock, which the company promotes as “the snow-white temple of bread-making cleanliness”
1912: William B. and Howard B. Ward, sons of Robert B. Ward, organize Ward & Ward Incorporated in Buffalo and Ward Brothers Bakery in Rochester
1915: Ward & Ward Incorporated completes its Buffalo factory, designed by C.B. Comstock
1921: Taggart Baking Company of Indianapolis introduces Wonder Bread; William B. Ward forms the United Bakeries Corporation
1924: William B. Ward reorganizes the United Bakeries Corporation as the Continental Baking Company
1925: Continental Baking Company acquires Taggart Baking Company, makers of Wonder Bread
1930: James Dewar, of the Continental Baking Company factory of Schiller Park, IL, invents the Twinkie; Continental Baking Company becomes one of the first bakeries to offer pre-sliced bread
1941: Continental Baking Company introduces baking technology that eliminates holes in bread, and becomes one of the first bakeries to introduce fortified white bread
1947: Continental Baking Company introduces Sno Balls cakes
1967: Continental Baking Company introduces Ding Dongs and Ho Hos snack cakes
1968: ITT acquires the Continental Baking Company, which becomes a subsidiary
1984: ITT sells Continental Baking Company to Ralston Purina
1995: Interstate Bakeries Corporation acquires the Continental Baking Company
2004: Interstate Bakeries Corporation, filing for bankruptcy protection, closes the Buffalo plant
2009: Interstate Bakeries Corporation emerges from bankruptcy, renamed to Hostess Brands
2012: Hostess Brands files for bankruptcy, suspends Wonder Bread and Hostess Cakes production
2013: Under new ownership, Wonder Bread and Hostess Cakes return to U.S. shelves

Criteria for Designation
The Wonder Bread Factory, 356 Fougeron Street, meets the following criteria for local landmark status, per Chapter 337, Preservation Standards, of the City Code:

1. It has character, interest, or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, state, or nation. The Wonder Bread Factory has contributed significantly to Buffalo’s heritage as a milling and baking center, and is associated with Ward & Ward Incorporated and the Continental Baking Company, maker of Wonder Bread and Hostess Cakes and for decades the largest bread-making concern in the United States.

3. It exemplifies the historic, aesthetic, architectural, archaeological, educational, economic, or cultural heritage of the city, state, or nation. The Wonder Bread Factory is an excellent example of restrained classicism applied to early twentieth century fireproof factory architecture, embodying what architectural historian Betsy Hunter Bradley identified as an industrial ideal of “beauty based on function, utility, and process.”

4. It is identified with a person or persons who significantly contributed to the development of the city, state, or nation. The Wonder Bread Factory is associated with William B. Ward of Ward & Ward Incorporated and the Continental Baking Company, and stands as a monument to the many hundreds of factory laborers who manufactured and distributed Wonder Bread and Hostess Cakes until the plant’s closure in 2004.

5. It embodies distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style valuable for the study of a period, type, method of construction, or use of indigenous materials. The Wonder Bread Factory is an exceptional example of a large scale “scientific and sanitary” bakery, representing the corporate response to the Pure Foods Movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The building itself is an advertisement for the company, to promote the idea that manufactured bread represents health and modernity, and to showcase the company’s adherence to rigorous sanitary standards.

6. It is the work of a master builder, engineer, designer, architect, or landscape architect whose individual work has influenced the development of the city, state, or nation. The Wonder Bread Factory was designed by Corry B. Comstock, the most prolific architect of sanitary bakeries in the United States in the early twentieth century, best known for designing the Ward Baking Company bakeries in Brooklyn and the Bronx in 1910.

9. It is a unique location or contains singular physical characteristics that make it an established or familiar visual feature within the city. The Wonder Bread Factory, with its smokestack, roof sign, and top level round arch windows, is an icon of the New York Central Belt Line and among the most familiar and established visual features of the Genesee/Moselle neighborhood, where residents to this day fondly remember the scent of freshly baked bread and cakes filling the air nearby.

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Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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