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The Pajama Factory Placed On National Registry of Historic Places

To many people, the former Weldon’s Pajama Factory building is just an old factory building. Now known as the “Pajama Factory”, it now has a wide variety of artsy type businesses now located within it, but recently it has now something even more special. It has been placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

This is a prestigious and highly sought after designation according to the website of the National Park Service, “The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historical and archeological resources.”

Mark and Suzanne Winkelman, owners of the property, are thrilled and pleased with this new designation.

“This building complex is a cornerstone of the city,” Mark told Webb Weekly. “We have people visit the building all the time who speak of their family members who used to work here when it was a manufacturing center.”

Winkleman said the designation on the National Historical Registry was in the works a long time, until the architecture team of Glenn Vernon and Claudia Albertin of Albertin Vernon Architects of Loganton, PA, pulled it together. They wrote a very compelling story of the Lycoming Rubber Company and its connection to the early industrialization movement in this country.

“This designation has greatly opened up funding possibilities and sources for us,” Winkleman said. “It will enable us to be able to do a lot of things with the complex and make additional improvements.”

He said one of the funding sources is a global business leader from out-of-state; a patron of the arts who believes in the mission and vision of the Pajama Factory and has secured a $1,000,000 line of credit for the next big project there. This funding is currently planned to fund the following construction projects at the Pajama Factory:

  • Complete the passenger elevator, which will provide full access to upper floors —with an opportunity to develop a rooftop restaurant/garden
  • Creation of 30 new work studios and four new live/work studios on the 3rd and 4th floors, which will be added to the 125 studios that currently exist. Many of the studios will be smaller to allow for start-up and hobby-based work environments
  • Building of a new entry lobby/reception area, gallery space, ‘Factory Made’ store and Pajama Factory offices on the first floor entered from the parking lot adjacent to the smokestack.
  • Paving and landscaping of the large parking lot on Cemetery Street that will be the new ‘front entrance’ to the complex
  • Fire safety systems will be upgraded including fire alarms, fire standpipes, and sprinkler upgrades

More importantly, Winkelman said the construction expansion would create new construction jobs and, once construction is complete, new ongoing jobs for management of this growing arts community.

Future plans, in addition to the planned construction in the coming year, include the creation of 65 loft residences, another 50 work studios, and an additional 30,000 square feet of retail space. Other additions include a farm to table restaurant with a 5th-floor roof garden, an excellent Pennsylvania rye whiskey distillery, an artisanal food market, and two thriving event spaces. High-speed fiber internet service has been brought into and distributed throughout the complex. And a non-profit 501 c-3 arts and community organization with a 6,000 square feet wood shop, clay studio, dark room, art gallery, and bicycle recycle shops for public use is growing into its 13,000 square feet of space.

The Pajama Factory located at Rose St. and Park Ave., started out life in 1882 as the home of the Lycoming Rubber Company. It was a subsidiary of the U.S. Rubber Company and made arctics, tennis shoes, Keds sneakers, shoes for yachting and gymnasium use as well as some miscellaneous rubber-related products.

The local factory was one of the largest manufacturers of all kinds of rubber goods in the United States. It had the reputation of having a harmonious relationship between labor and management that resulted in high earnings, job security, high morale among workers, and good working conditions.

During a downturn in the economy the factory was closed between 1910 and 1916, but with an upturn in the economy, due in large part to the fighting in Europe during World War I, the plant re-opened and largely expanded its facilities.

During the period from 1916 to 1932 Lycoming Rubber Company, and the employees of the plant, turned out more than 12,000 pairs of rubber footwear a day.

The advent of “The Great Depression” brought about the demise of Lycoming Rubber in Williamsport. A drastic decline in the demand for its products brought about a decision in 1932 to move the local plant’s work to U.S. Rubber’s plant in Naugatuck, Conn., ending an almost 50-year rubber manufacturing industry in Williamsport.

Beginning in 1934, various tenants called the former Rubber Company plant home, including, Franklin Hosiery Mills, Faxon Fabrics, W.S. Green Shoe Company, Lucille Footwear, Wundies, Inc., and the Weldon Manufacturing Company — the world’s largest shirt and pajama manufacturer at the time. It owned the property the Weldon Pajama Company began leasing space in the former Lycoming Rubber Company factory complex. They had a small presence there until it was decided on January 6, 1951, to purchase the entire complex and make it into a large factory operation for the Weldon Company.

Weldon’s acquired the complex for $350,000 and made good use of the more than 300,000 square feet of floor space that existed there. They also did about $100,000 in renovations to the complex.

By the mid-1950s the Weldon’s plant was the largest pajama factory in the world. It also made sports shorts as well. The Lucille Footwear Company was also housed in the complex during this time.

Weldon’s gained its greatest fame nationally and internationally in connection with the Broadway musical, and later the movie, “The Pajama Game.”

When noted Broadway producer George Abbott was preparing for the Broadway production of “The Pajama Game,” he sent representatives to the local Weldon’s factory to get a feel for it and to take many photographs of it so that they could faithfully represent a pajama factory as part of the backdrops for the theatrical production.

When the film was made, set designers and other technical people did the same thing, as well as taking things to use as props as part of the film to give the film a realistic look.

Weldon’s, which was then owned by the Harwood Company, closed its doors as a factory on November 2, 1979, about 300 employees were displaced as a result of its closing. The closing resulted in the decline in the sale of sleepwear and cheaper foreign competition.

Weldon’s continued to operate a factory outlet store for a number of years after its closing.

Along the same lines, the Cobbler’s Shoe Factory operated an outlet store from 1979 until the early 1990s.

In recent years the former Weldon’s complex, then known as the Raytown complex, owned by Ray Smith, housed restaurants, a nightclub, a dance studio for line dancing and the Equinox Company that manufactures fleece-related products and some clothing on a small scale.

In 2007 a group of New York City area entrepreneurs headed by Winkleman acquired the Pajama Factory complex and transformed it into a location for diverse artisan studios and related businesses.

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