Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ward Wellington Ward's 1909 (H. A. Moyer) Automobile Factory Among Syracuse's Top Industrial Buildings

Syracuse, NY. Former H. A. Moyer Automobile Company factory. Ward Wellington Ward, architect (1909-10). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013.

Ward Wellington Ward's (H. A. Moyer) Automobile Factory Among Syracuse's Top Industrial Buildings
by Samuel D. Gruber

Recent attention to the former Penfield Building at the corner of North Salina Street and Hiawatha Boulevard (take video tour with the new owner here) suggests the we should look more at the surviving industrial buildings in close proximity - most of which were once part of the H.A. Moyer Carriage Company, and from 1909 the H. A. Moyer Automobile Company.  Presumably, all of these buildings once had "houses" like the one on the Penfield building, as shown in an idealized view on an historic postcard, and this is what regularly brings media attention.  It should be noted, however, that the postcard misrepresents the automobile factory and other features and therefore cannot be taken as entirely reliable).

Syracuse, NY. Former H. A. Moyer Carriage Factory / Penfield Bldg seen form Wolf Street. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013.

Syracuse, NY. Idealized view of H. A. Moyer Carriage and Automobile Factories.  Penfield Bldg on far left, Moyer automobile factory on right.  There is however, no large street on the north facade.  Photo: historic postcard.

But the building complex has more than this curiosity.  It has the history of several distinctive Syracuse manufacturing companies, notably H. A. Moyer, and then Porter-Cable, the innovator in American portable power tools that occupied the Penfield Building for several decades until 1960, when the company was bought by Rockwell International, stripped of its assets, and moved to Tennessee (sound familiar for a pioneering Syracuse company with a national reputation?).  

Architecturally, the best building of the complex is the last built, the H. A. Moyer Automobile Factory on the northwest corner of Wolf and Park Streets.  The four-story building went up in 1909, designed by Ward Wellington Ward, the son-in-law of H. A. Moyer, who had recently moved to Syracuse from New York City with his wife Maude.  I've written about Ward's Arts and Crafts style houses on the blog before, but few people (except Cleota Reed) know that Ward designed this building, too.

A notice in the Syracuse Herald (June 19, 1909) announced:


H. A. Moyer Company Awards Contract for New Automobile Factory

The H. A. Moyer company has awarded to David Nicholson of this city the contract for the erection of the five-story manufacturing building which it will erect at once on Park street, near Wolf, to house its new automobile factory. The building is to be equipped completely with modern appliances for the manufacture of autos. In addition to the five-story building, it was announced .yesterday by Mr. Moyer that the company will build at once a blacksmith shop 30 by 125 feet in dimensions. This building will be one story high and of brick mill construction. The plan for both buildings were prepared by Architect Ward W. Ward.
We know the building went up quickly, though with only four stories instead of five.  Less than six months after the initial announcement The Post Standard mentioned the new factory in two separate articles on the same page in the same New Year's day edition (January 1, 1910). 

“Many New Factories Under Contemplation"
Harvey A. Moyer has entered the automobile business and will begin the manufacture of cars next week in his big, new factory in Wolf street. This factory, in connection with his carriage industry, will make Mr. Moyer one of the largest employers of skilled labor in Syracuse. Mr. Moyer's new automobile factory involves an investment of $75,000 and he proposes to turn out 200 cars this year.
Syracuse, NY. Former H. A. Moyer Automobile Company factory. Ward Wellington Ward, architect (1909-10). Detail of brick work and rounded pilaster. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.
A Bigger and Better Syracuse is Planned”

North of the Erie canal there is the new factory building for H. A. Moyer, which will be used in the manufacture of automobiles, and in this section of the city bier factories will be built this year for Grouse-Hinds Company and I-I. H. Gray's Son.
Syracuse, NY. 1911 Moyer Touring Car in front of H. A. Moyer automobile Company factory on Wolf Street, whic opened the previous year.  Photo: H. A. Moyer Facebook page

The optimism surrounding the factory opening was misplaced.   Soon, the H. A. Moyer Automobile Company's fine hand-crafted cars could not compete with the many more models produced faster and cheaper by other companies, especially Henry Ford's Model T, introduced in 1908 and coming off the moving assembly line fast and cheap from 1913 to 1927.  Moyer tried to make cars like he made fine carriages, but the production and sales model did not work. By 1924 the automobile factory was occupied by the Owen-Dyneto Corporation.

We don't know Ward's sources for his design.   Little is known of his work before coming to Syracuse where he seems to have discovered - or at least fully digested the Arts and Crafts aesthetic - and worked almost exclusively on residential projects.  But good examples of industrial work were readily found in Syracuse, such as the 1897 typewriter factory now known as Mission Landing at the redeveloped Franklin Square.  And I bet that Ward took a good look at the O. M. Edwards Building designed by Gordon Wright and built in 1906 for the manufacture of railroad and trolley windows, now redeveloped as the Lofts at Franklin Square.  Like the O. M. Edwards building, the Moyer factory has fine brickwork and employs an exterior system of tall pilasters with rounded corners to separate the window bays. 

 Syracuse, NY. Former H. A. Moyer Automobile Company factory. Ward Wellington Ward, architect (1909-10). The main entrance and first floor windows have been changed since the 1911 photo, but the second floor windows may be original. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Ward's articulation is different the Wright's.  Ward put his main entrance on the short Wolf Street facade, which is divided into four bays, three with large windows, and the fourth presumably for loading dock, stairs and elevator.  I have not been in the building, but look forward to an opportunity for a closer look.  The building appears to have load bearing masonry walls, but the large windows suggest an internal metal support system.  Were the floors carried by thick timbers as was the norm in Syracuse factories and most mill type buildings, or is there structural steel?  After all, this was a car factory.  Should we expect the most advanced structural techniques? 


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