The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company was the world’s largest magazine printing house and was located along High Street in Springfield, Ohio. But the massive 900,000 square-foot structure had humble beginnings.
The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company was founded by John S. Crowell of Louisville, Kentucky, who worked in the Courier-Journal print shop and press room. Crowell relocated to Springfield in 1877 to print his Farm and Fireside magazine for agricultural implements manufactured by the P.P. Mast and Company in an office located in a two-story building at the southeast corner of Warder and Limestone. Just two years later, the magazine had blossomed which led Crowell to form the Mast, Crowell and Kirkpatrick, with Crowell leading the company as general manager.
In 1880, the outfit was moved to the Republic Building to the upper floors. But rapid growth saw the addition of three dozen employees just two years later, and the company outgrew the building and moved in 1891 to West High Street in a three-story, 50,000 square-foot building. The political views of Mast, Crowell and Kirkpatrick were well known by this point: a portrait of William McKinley, who was running for governorship of Ohio, was plastered in every window of their new plant during that election season.
In 1885, Crowell added a second magazine known as Ladies Home Companion which had begun earlier in 1873 in Cleveland under the name Home Companion. The magazine was later known as Woman’s Home Companion and was very popular from the onset. In 1911, the company launched The American Magazine. Expansion of the facilities in 1873 and 1915 brought the total amount of manufacturing and office space to more than 350,000 square feet, employing 2,000.
In 1919, the company made its first major acquisition when it bought out the book and magazine publisher P.F. Collier and Collier’s operations were relocated to Springfield. Collier’s Weekly had ben first established in 1888 to promote P.F. Collier’s own books, and was originally titled Once a Week. 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. But under the editorial guidance of William Chenery, a staff was built up that reported on foreign news and writers were engaged to write on timely and controversial issues. The firm added The Mentor magazine in 1921 and while initially popular, the magazine not live up to its lofty expectations and was sold nine years later. In the book department, Collier’s attracted new readers with its new “short-short” 1,000-word pieces and by 1924, 1.4 million copies were rolling off the presses each week.
Crowell 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 Firesidewas holding steady at 1.2 million. Its payroll had expanded from $8,500 per week just a decade prior to $46,500.
The company soon outgrew its facilities and constructed an eight-story Building J at West High Street and South Wittenberg Avenue in 1927, it’s largest expansion at that time. It was followed up two years later with a western expansion with a signature tower known as Building K. The combined floor square footage of both buildings was approximately 726,000.
Demand increased and in 1931, the company proclaimed that it held the largest magazine audience in the nation. The corporation had expanded with offices at 250 Park Avenue in New York City, occupying three entire floors.
In 1930, with a circulation of 1.825 million, Farm and Fireside was renamed Country Home to try to broaden its appeal only to be discontinued by 1939. By April 1937, the company boasted a magazine audience of 9,496,841, the largest in the world, and in that year, its 122 presses printed 22,013,225,000 pages, consumed 158,771,000 pounds of paper costing $6,806,500 and drank 3,468,000 pounds of ink costing $745,700.
To reflect the merged operations of the Crowell and Collier companies, the corporate name was changed to the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company in 1939. By 1940, payroll reached $160,000 and the company was printing 20 million magazines per month. Over time, the Crowell-Collier building grew in size to eventually cover two square blocks with the last addition developed in April 1947 when a building was completed at Main Street and Wittenberg Avenue – known as Building X.
With the completion of the new space, the printing house occupied 917,000 square feet. Eight new high speed color gravure printing presses graced the inside of the new building, with the first two being put into operation in April; the other six soon followed. The new presses operated at a rate of 20,000 revolutions per hour, or 60,000 copies of an issue. The presses operated 22.5 hours per day and consumed paper rolls 68 inches wide at a rate of three per hour, or 72 rolls per per day, or if rolled out, it would stretch the distance from New York to San Francisco.
Expansion of the empire was continuing, and ground was broken for its new New York City offices at Fifth Avenue and 51st Street in 1949. The building, constructed by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, was built for Crowell-Collier’s editorial, circulation, advertising and executive offices. By 1952, the Crowell-Collier plant was producing 20 million magazines per month.
Despite distributing millions of magazines per month, the Crowell-Collier was in trouble. At the end of 1952, Clarence Stouch, head of Crowell-Collier, approached the chief and general manager of the San Francisco Chronicle, Paul C. Smith. Stouch asked Smith to look over the ailing corporation and see what could be done to restore its value. The decline for Crowell-Collier had begun due to the advent of television and the onslaught of newer magazines that appealed to younger audiences from other publishing houses. Circulation figures were rising, but advertising revenue had not to offset rapidly increasing printing costs. The flow of operational cash was drying up fast, and an unsecured bank loan of over a million dollars was due in January 1954. Although the company could make the payments, the bank would surely be reluctant to renew the deal due to the uncertainties surrounding the company. Without a new bank loan of $1,750,000, Crowell-Collier would be forced to close.
For 1952, Crowell-Collier grossed $60 million but lost $4 million. In addition, although assets were over $32 million and total assets exceeded $42 million, the current liabilities totalled near $32 million with less than $500,000 in cash at the bank. Collier’s went to a bi-monthly print in 1953 to help reduce printing costs. A $2 million dividend that had been appropriated each year to its shareholders from 1932 also ceased, and while this decision did not appeal to the shareholders, it was funding that was not being reinvested back into the plant.
On January 16, 1954, Smith was elected president of Crowell-Collier who proclaimed that the future of the company was forever bright. Not only had Collier’s added 800,000 new circulations since the switch to bi-monthly publication, 100 new advertising accounts were added to the magazine’s roster. 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. By this point, Crowell-Collier’s stock was unlisted and selling for $5.50 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 Co. agreed to authorize the sale in private placement of a $4 million issue of 5% debenture bonds, $3 million of which would be used to pay off immediate debts and another million to stash in reserve. The sale occurred on August 10, 1955, providing a lifeline for the company.
Hints of another plant expansion surfaced on October 27, 1955 and the company showed a net profit of $755,000 for the year. But its January 1956 showings were depressing; Crowell-Collier lost over one million dollars. Soon after, an expenditure of $6 million was required in relation to subscription renewals for the magazines but the funding was non-existant. Money derived from the revolving bank credits in the book subsidiary were now all going to the expansion of book sales, which had increased to more than $25 million – an increase from $8 million in 1953. It’s book division was doing so well that a new Crowell-Collier building was opened in Los Angles on March 4, 1956.
On April 25, a tentative purchase agreement was signed between Crowell-Collier and Consolidated Television and Broadcasting, with financial details worked out throughout the summer. 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 the banks for January 1957, to be followed with another $2 millon in March and in May. Two of the banks agreed to the 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 to its two paper suppliers, which they agreed to for a term of 90 days.
But on the eve of the signing of the Consolidated deal, it was revealed that revenue expectations for Crowell-Collier would fall well short – $2.5 million less than expected. As a result, 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, treasury stock that had been authorized but unissued, to Mike Cowles who was the president and editor of Lookmagazine. The $2.4 million would give the corporation 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, Lookand Collier’s would retain their separate identities but be printed in turns bi-weekly. 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 spell the end of Companion and Collier’s but ensure that the profitable book division would remain. A group of directors, bondholders and stockholders had been holding secret meetings at a hotel and attempted to fire Smith, but undeterred by the criticism, Smith barged into one of the secret meetings to present Cowles proposal. The executive committee looked over it and recommended its acceptance to the full board, who then authorized 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, the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company voted to cease publication of its two mass circulation magazines, Woman’s Home Companion and Collier’s with the desire to just publish books. The magazine division was losing $7.5 million per year. The elimination of its magazine division left 2,275 employees without jobs. Even worse, announcement was made via a 11 P.M. newscast on a Friday after many had already made their holiday purchases. 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, but not to the workers in the publishing plant in Springfield. Smith had resigned soon after the decision was made to eliminate the magazine division 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 employees that were affected.
The final issue of Collier’s, dated January 4, 1957, hit the newsstands on December 20 ending 68 years of continuous publication. Not even a farewell note was inserted due to the rush nature of the closure.
The Crowell-Collier magazine operations thereafter, maintained with just six employees tasked with answering subscription inquiries and complaints, closed on October 1, 1958. The Springfield plant continued to print trade publications and catalogs for a short duration afterwards, but those operations – some of which had been recently transferred from other cities, were eventually relocated. The profitable encyclopedia and book division of Crowell-Collier were merged with Macmillan Inc. in December 1960.
The city declined interest in purchasing the Crowell-Collier buildings in February 1957, believing that the property would be more valuable as an industrial site than government. The buildings consisted of more than 900,000 square feet of space, and all of the city functions could fit within a quarter of that size. The then 60-year-old City Building had less than 100,000 square-feet of space and was adequate for its time.
At a special shareholders meeting on March 20, a vote was taken in favor, 1,346,466 to 20,538, of selling the Crowell-Collier plant for $3,894,374.50 to R.R. Donnelley and Sons of Chicago who expressed interest in removing the printing equipment for relocation to a Donnelley facility. The proceeds would be used to pay off $1,725,783.51 in notes secured by mortgages and other liabilities by Crowell-Collier. Donnelley and Sons began an “intense sales campaign” in January 1958.
On March 28, 1959, Donnelley gave the building to the University of Chicago who then spent nearly a decade-and-a-half trying to find someone to rent, lease or purchase the building whole or in parts, with space ranging from 76,000 square-feet to over 800,000 square-feet. Over 3,000 brochures were mailed out to “important people throughout the country” with little success, and despite the assistance of industrial realtors, few nibbled at the massive building. The asking price was $1.5 million. The university found it impossible to rid itself of the liability due to a lack of railroad service that was removed in the 1960s and its multi-story structure that made it inefficient to modern-day manufacturing companies who desired single floor structures.
After remaining vacant without a tenant for 16 years, the city of Springfield expressed interest in the property in 1971. In August of the following year, the city received the go-ahead to negotiate with the University of Chicago for the property. Springfield offered $225,000 which the university turned down. In return, the city upped the offer by $50,000, and on September 28, 1972, the university agreed to a sell price of $250,000.
Faced with the reality that reusing the Crowell-Collier plant for an industrial use was out of the question, the city announced that it would demolish the complex for low and moderate income housing. But the city had not received approval of funds from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Agency (HUD) and such funding would not be available at the earliest until July 1974. Demolition costs were first estimated at $175,000 in 1972, but were later pegged at $250,000.16
On November 6, 1972, the city met with Harry C. Denune, a Columbus businessman who expressed interest in purchasing the former Crowell-Collier buildings. Denune, who controlled six recreational vehicle companies that included Dixie International, Dixie Distributing, Dixie Importing, Dixie Manufacturing, Chain Corporation and Sno-Hobby, offered to buy the building either from the University of Chicago or from the city should the school sell it to them as had been planned. Denune offered to pay $250,000, and reimburse the city $2,500 that it spent for an appraisal of the property. Denune also sweetened the proposal by stating four recreational vehicle companies would be interested in locating in the vast building: Dixie International of Columbus, in which Denune had half interest; McCulty and Associates of Columbus, a subcontractor for Denune; Cliff’s Welding and 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.
Denune had been involved in the recreational vehicle business since 1948, all based out of Columbus, his hometown. Denune also had relatives that worked at Crowell-Collier.
City Commissioner Max E. Cordle believed that he city should purchase the Crowell-Collier 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.” But Denune purchased the building in December for $250,000 and began repairs to the deteriorated roof of the Crowell-Collier building in January 1973 with the goal of moving his Columbus manufacturing operations into the building by the spring. Total renovations was expected to cost $500,000, and include replacement and repair of the truck docks, heating and electrical systems, elevators, roofs, a new sprinkler system, doors, windows, sidewalks and masonry. The Crowell-Collier property became Denune’s headquarters in 1989, and Denune used the space as a distribution center for Dixie Distributing to fulfill orders for Harley-Davidson.
During that time, stockholders of Crowell-Collier and Macmillan Inc. voted in November to change the company name to Macmillan, severing the last connection to the Crowell-Collier name.
In 1997, the Crowell-Collier property was added to Springfield’s “brownfield” list of redevelopment projects. That came afte 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. Partially due to those same chemicals that were stored in barrels and jugs, a general-alarm fire that began just after 10 AM on May 10, 1999 caused mayhem to the firefighters who had to battle the intense flames shooting out of the Crowell-Collier site for eight hours. The fire set off several chemical piles that led to small explosions. In all, the fire consumed the eastern front of the complex and reached from the third floor to the roof.
In 2009, some loose bricks fell off of the Crowell-Collier building onto the street, which required cleanup and some immediate repairs.
In 2011, another fire occurred which led Clark County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard O’Neill to declare that the Crowell-Collier property was a public nuisance due to numerous code violations. 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 the centrally located Building F. Faced with dimming prospects for the building, the property was sold to Mosier Industrial Services Corp., a northeast Ohio company, for $1.5 million in September. Inventory removal began soon after, with two to ten tractor-trailer loads moved per day, and asbestos mitigation started on October 24.
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