Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Brown Hoist Building

An Industrial Landmark

Brown-Hoist Building

One of Cleveland's most interesting industrial structures is just off a major road (St. Clair Avenue), at the northwest corner of East 45th Street and Hamilton Avenue. It's hard to convey the size of this massive structure - 312 x 500 feet - and its design is sufficiently impressive that I was shocked I hadn't written about it previously.

The structure, built in 1901-1902, was designed for the Brown Hoisting Machinery Company by J. Milton Dyer. It represents one of his earliest commissions. Among Dyer's significant commissions were the Cleveland City Hall, the Peerless Motor Car factory and the Coast Guard Station.

Locomotive Fueling Station Five Ton Yard Cantilever, with Wide Pier, for Handling Structural Material
Locomotive Fueling Station and Five Ton Yard Cantilever, both products of the Brown Hoisting Company. (Cleveland Plain Dealer May 22, 1902, page 13)

The Brown Hoist (or Brown Hoisting) Company was founded in Cleveland in 1885. They became the largest company in the world dealing exclusively in cranes and materials handling machinery, filling orders for all types of industry. In 1900, a fire destroyed the factory.

Soon after the fire, work began on a new, fireproof plant. As of January 25, 1901, the remains of the original structure had been condemned. It was expected to take 30 days to create the plans and another two to three months for the construction. (Plain Dealer, January 25, 1901, page 2) They took the opportunity to expand their manufacturing operations, with the purchase of land on Hamilton Avenue on March 5, 1901. (Plain Dealer, March 6, 1901, pages 6 and 10)

Alexander Brown, vice president of the company, wanted to create a building material that was fireproof, lightweight and cheap. The process, called Ferroinclave, was first used in this building. Eric Johannesen, in Cleveland Architecture, 1876-1976 (page 43) describes the material, which "Consisted of corrugated steel sheets formed by alternating Z-angles into dovetails, covered on both sides with cement." He notes that "This idea was also the origin of the steel-formed stairs with cement treads which are a part of standard building practice seventy-five years later."

The nature of the base material is illustrated here, in Brown's patent application.

In May, 1901, a permit was pulled for the new factory building, with the cost estimated at $200,000. (Plain Dealer May 19, 1901, page 18) When completed, the building was to be the largest in the county. (November 11, 1901, page 8)

In July, a permit was pulled for a new office building for the company, to be made of brick, stone and iron. The estimated cost was $50,000. The article added that "The present office building is located on the corner of Belden and Hamilton streets and has been for some time entirely too small for the demand. The building will be 113 feet front by 140 feet in depth, with a highly ornamental front." (July 14, 1901, page 17) By August, however, the company decided to build a less extensive office building, revising downward the estimate to $20,000, and pulling a new permit. (August 4, 1901, page 17)

Brown-Hoist Building

J. Milton Dyer was responsible for this part of the complex as well. (May 22, 1902, page 14 and October 7, 1903, page 12) The contractor was one H. Scheeler. (December 7, 1902, page 16) A grand opening and dance for the office building were held on Friday, June 20, 1902. (June 21, 1902, page 3) The building, at 4403 St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio, still stands.

Birdseye View of the Mammoth Plant of the Brown Hoisting Machinery Co.

This rendering of the Brown Hoist complex was published in the Plain Dealer on May 22, 1902. (Page 13) The artist was looking north northwest. At the far left, the office building is visible, including the unbuilt rear wing. Behind it, the drafting shop is visible, and behind that, the factory. This angle illustrates the form of the factory building in a way that my photographs cannot.

An article in the Plain Dealer on May 22, 1902 (page 14) describes the factory building. "The main shop covers about 156,000 square feet of ground, constituting one large room without a single partition. The roofs are supported by heavy steel columns placed at intervals of about forty to seventy feet. The shop is composed of seven compartments or bays, each of which is equipped with huge traveling cranes of twenty to thirty tons capacity. The entire structure has a floorspace fully double that of the old shop and it is estimated that with the largely increased facilities the annual output of the company will be three times as large as formerly." After describing the fireproof constriction, it continues "The plant is lighted by electricity, which power is also utilized in propelling the great cranes, and an improved system of heating and ventilating by underground conduits has been installed. Among the other buildings forming a part of this enormous plant may be mentioned the power house, equipped with the latest improved electric machinery; the pattern shop, pattern stores and store room. The rear yard from which shipping is done is provided with two large traveling cantilevers. The offices of the company front on St. Clair street and occupy one of the most elegant office buildings in the city."

Eric Johannesen called the Brown-Hoist building a "landmark in both structure and architecture." (Cleveland Architecture 1876-1976, page 43) Mary-Peale Schofield, in Landmark Architecture of Cleveland, said that it was "As striking today as it was in 1906". (page 140)

This historic structure remains in use today, as an industrial warehouse. It's an important piece of our industrial heritage. If you find yourself in the area, stop and take a look. It's impressive.


  1. Here is a brief reference to the Brown Hoisting Company in "The Ohio Guide" (1940), compiled by the workers of the Writers' Program of the Works Projects Administration in the State of Ohio (American Guide Series), Oxford University Press, New York: "For all the industrial advancement and civic improvement... the laboring men looked with mistrust on the industrial giants. Labor began to test its strength. A walk-out of 500 men paralyzed the Lake Shore Railroad and won better conditions than the 12-hour day, 7-day week. The Newburgh steel workers walked out again in 1885, three years after their first strike. A general strike of switchmen tied up all the transportation lines in and about the city, and several other troubles, which included the historical Brown Hoisting Company strike of several months duration, were among the growing pains of the industrial giant." (p.225)

  2. Thank you for all this information, Christopher and Jim. Came in useful for a CSU student today.

  3. There are some interesting photos of the building under construction in the July 1903 issue of Ohio Architect and Builder. The article starts on page 20.

  4. The convenience and efficiency of roofing a slipway with an overhead structure was,in fact,an American innovation,first perfected at Virginia's Newport News. Though one smaller overhead gantry had been erected above Harland and Wolff berths nos. 5 and 6,its design inspiration had also originated overseas from the Brown Hoisting Machine Company of Cleveland Ohio. This is from the book "Titanic Tragedy a new look at the lost liner by John Maxtone Graham. Charles Replogle October 18,2012 12.45pm

  5. I know this is really old but my friend lives in this building and I took a few pictures of the inside. Are you interested?