Marietta industrial complex a home to many businesses over the decades

Photo by Michael Kelly The crew from Westwater Supply — from left, Harold Ours, Ron Wagner, Steve Johnson and Mike Hamersley — stand outside the shop on Greene Street Friday. The business moved into a space in the northeast corner of the Remington-Kardex property last year.

MARIETTA — An industrial complex founded on making fireproof containers for documents and other goods, the Remington Kardex buildings on Greene Street in Marietta themselves have not been proof against changing times.

The sprawling property, which includes more than 200,000 square feet of former production space, a distinguished pillared building that gave the place its local nickname, “The Bank,” and several outbuildings, was once the industrial heart of Marietta, built in the Norwood neighborhood at a time when residential, industrial and commercial uses mixed closely with one another.

Built by the Safe Cabinet Company, the original structures included the ‘bank’ building and a wooden building attached to the back where the safes were produced. The main building included an auditorium where the fireproof and damage-resistant properties of the steel safes and cabinets were demonstrated for prospective customers.

The plant undertook a vast expansion in 1925, adding a 220,000-square-foot, four-story production center. It was the most successful business in its field in the country.

“It was a huge employer,” said Marietta resident Harley Noland, who has an extensive background in architecture. “At one time, Norwood was Marietta’s industrial park. They built a trolley barn there – it’s still there, that big pale green building on the corner of the lot – where all the trolleys were stored. There were tons of jobs there, that’s why they expanded the streetcar line out there. It was like Marietta’s first suburb.”

Photo from the Harry Philip Fischer Collection, Marietta College An April 2, 1926 photo shows the expanded production building of the Safe Cabinet Company under construction on Greene Street. The structure was designed by Schenk and Williams Architects of Dayton and built by R.R. Kitchen and Co. of Wheeling, W.Va.

The industrial boom put other plants in the city’s Norwood periphery, including Marietta Paint and Color, the Rich Loaf Bakery, Vanguard Paints, Patent Manufacturers, Cyanamid and others.

“Marietta had money then, the oil boom was dying down but the city invested in a lot of businesses, we built the Ohio River bridge, it was a crazy good time until the Depression,” Noland said.

The plant underwent the first of many changes of ownership in the early 1930s as Remington Rand moved in, manufacturing office machines. Remington merged with Sperry, and the plant was converted to wartime use for a few years in the mid-1940s making propeller hubs for aircraft. That portion of the operation was moved to New York in 1945.

Remington and Sperry later merged with Kardex, a company that designed file card systems that eventually became the industry standard for record-keeping in the medical field and held that position for decades until it became another casualty of the digital age.

Remington-Kardex announced in 1967 it would build a new 500,000-square foot plant east of Marietta in Reno, and for a time after that plant was completed both locations continued in production, but by the early 1970s the Greene Street operation was idle and vacant after having provided employment for thousands of people and putting millions of dollars into the local economy for more than 50 years.

Photo from the Harry Philip Fischer Collection, Marietta College A group of graduates from the Safe Cabinet Company sales course is shown in a photo from December 1920. The location is not known.

Noland noted that the Reno property, which became the core of a thriving industrial park, continues to provide hundreds of local jobs.

Kardex sold the Greene Street property to Henry Oldaker in 1995, according to Washington County real estate transfer records, and a few months later he sold it to Two Rivers Development Ltd., a partnership between Marietta industrialist John Lehman and businessman Jeffery Starner.

Former Marietta city councilman and Norwood resident Roger Kalter said he has seen the property put to a variety of uses since the 1990s. A small area of it was used to develop organic composting soil, and for a time it was used as a storage and transfer point for industrial sand, although neighbors complained about blowing sand and dust, and the noise, Kalter said.

Jim Couts, popularly known as Dr. Worm, held a composting seminar there as recently as the summer of 2015.

“He would buy truckloads of coconut core to mix with the compost and then sell it. It was way cheaper and better than peat moss. Thousands of those coconut cubes went through there, they’d come in a truckload at a time,” Kalter said.

Photo from the Harry Philip Fischer Collection, Marietta College The Safe Cabinet Company complex is shown in an undated photograph taken from Walnut Hill in Marietta.

In early 2018, Two Rivers redeveloped the northeast corner of the building and leased it to Westwater Supply, a plumbing and heating equipment firm. Westwater president Dave D’Arcy, a Marietta native, said he’s happy with the move.

“I think it’s a good location, we’re very pleased with it,” D’Arcy said. “It has good access to downtown and the interstate, we’ve got no complaints at all. This store really works for us.”

Beyond the several thousand square feet occupied by Westwater, the building remains much as it was when built. Mushroom concrete pillars march in columns down hundreds of feet of high-ceilinged, open space, naturally lit by banks of big casement windows on all the walls, giving the abandoned factory a bright, airy feel.

Noland said the structure of the building makes it suitable for many uses.

“In larger cities, you see almost exactly the same kind of structure made into offices and residential units, an adaptive reuse of this kind of structure,” he said. “It’s a totally flexible space, you can drop all the HVAC into the ceiling, and do whatever you want with the exterior curtain wall.”

Photo from the Harry Philip Fischer Collection, Marietta College An unidentified woman demonstrates the use of a combination desk and storage unit built by the Safe Cabinet Company at its Marietta plant.

And, like the safes and cabinets it was built to manufacture, the concrete structure is fire resistant, right down to the window and door trim.

“If you look at it, the doors and windows look like they’re trimmed with wood, but it’s actually false-finished metal,” Noland said. “The cabinets they built at the start were the same way, metal finished to look like oak because at that time, that’s how people expected them to look.”

The 11-acre size of the property provides parking and space for outdoor amenities, he said.

“You can get semis in and out, you could have a putting green, a tennis court, a pool,” he said.

Claire Showalter wrote a thesis for her master of architecture degree at the University of Washington in 2014 that focused on her hometown of Marietta and the adaptive reuse potential of the Remington-Kardex building and similar properties in the city.

Photo by Michael Kelly Vehicles pass the Remington-Kardex property on Greene Street Friday afternoon. The buildings have remained largely vacant for decades.

“… these surviving structures, with their strong connections to the past and to their physical context, can be transformed to become active players in the urban environment and a valuable asset to community life once again,’ she wrote.

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A Glance at the Safe Cabinet Company Building

* 1921: The Safe Cabinet Company builds an office and production facility at 910 Greene St.

* 1925: Four-story expansion built on the 11-acre site

* Mid-1930s: Building had been taken over by Remington Rand, which produced office machines

* Early 1940s: Operation changes to wartime production of aircraft propeller hubs

* 1946: Propeller production moved to a plant in New York

* 1967: Construction of a new plant in Reno announced

* 1969: Production ceases at the Greene Street plant

* 1995: Property sold by Kardex Systems to Henry Oldaker

* 1996: Property sold to Two Rivers Development Ltd.

Sources: Times research, Claire Showalter master’s thesis, Marietta College Legacy Library Special Collections

Photo by Michael Kelly Massive concrete pillars support the floors throughout what was formerly the manufacturing area of the Remington-Kardex building on Greene Street.

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