Joseph & Feiss
The abandoned skeleton of Joseph & Feiss looms over the motorists along Interstate 90 in Cleveland, Ohio, a derelict that has only been a little more than a decade in the making. Graffiti stained and with no windows and doors, it’s a wonder that this former industrial site hasn’t been completely demolished.
The Joseph & Feiss Company is the oldest manufacturer of tailored apparel for men in the United States and it’s history is fascinating. It began as a small tailoring outfit in Meadville, Pennsylvania before it was relocated to Cleveland, where it changed hands before adopting its present-day name in 1907. The firm grew after Joseph & Feiss opted to internalize its manufacturing operations and absorbing its outsourced partners.
The company expanded and relocated to West 53rd Street in the early 1900s. After much growth in sales, the company built what was the largest clothing factory in the nation in 1920-21. At seven acres large, it centralized Joseph & Feiss’ cutting, trimming, sewing and pressing departments into one area.
It was around this time that the firm adopted scientific management concepts that was the brainchild of Frederick Winslow Taylor. Joseph & Feiss was able to demonstrate that scientific management was appropriate to the labor-intensive production of suits. Joseph & Feiss adopted semi-automatic machinery that was driven by electric power, and divided and subdivided production of its suits so that the production process included as many as 189 separate steps.4 These repetitive tasks were often handled by female employees who completed only one step in the elongated process, such as sewing on pockets, collars and sleeves, while men cut and tailored. The scientific approach allowed the company to utilize high-volume production techniques for its standardized lineup. The process was reviewed four times a year for any readjustments.
To keep employees content, auditorium, swimming pool, handball court, library, and an extensive cafeteria was constructed on site. But changing management and unionization ultimately led to the scientific management downfall.
After World War II, Joseph & Feiss was acquired by Samuel Spitz, Phillips-Van Heusen and then Hugo Boss AG. Facing lower priced imports, rising costs and an aging industrial complex, Hugo Boss opted to move its manufacturing operations to a facility on Tiedeman Road.
In 1998, Ameri-Con Homes acquired the former Joseph & Feiss facility at 53rd Street and announced that the complex would be converted into 150 condominiums and townhomes. After being sidetracked for several years, Ameri-Con began demolition of the center of the factory to make room for new townhomes and parking. The two largest buildings on the site were retained for condominiums. But facing a slow housing market, Ameri-Con abandoned the project in 2006.\
Urban Housing Limited purchased the vacant factory at a sheriff’s sale and in 2011, the State of Ohio’s Department of Development awarded $1 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits towards the renovation of the remaining Joseph & Feiss buildings. While no work has begun on the rehabilitation project, the plans are still in the pipeline.
Here is to hoping that the buildings will be salvaged and reused for others to enjoy and admire.