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"Why should people get to see plans? This isn't a public project."
Bruce Ratner in Crain's Nov. 8, 2009

Bruce Ratner Prepares to Destroy Ward Bakery

As announced yesterday, "Atlantic Yards" demolisher Bruce Ratner intends to demolish the Ward Bakery building, an architectural treasure with substantial historical significance. Bruce Ratner plans on "recycling" the demolition remnants, pretending this is the right thing to do.

Bruce Ratner wants to destroy this building to create facts on the ground and to clear the area to create "interim surface parking" (ISP) for construction workers and construction staging (interim could mean 15-20 years or forever!). If ISP is the need why not convert the Bakery building into multi-tiered parking (which would create more parking space for construction workers) and then if plainitffs win their eminent domain lawsuit, and the project can't be built, the extraordinary building can be adaptively reused for housing. The answer of course is that Bruce Ratner has a scorched earth policy and wants to create facts on the ground.

Though its parent company Forest City Enterprises embraces preservation, here in Brooklyn its just not convenient for Forest City Ratner. (Norman Oder has a long, must-read aricle today on this very issue: "Forest City embraces historic preservation, but not in Brooklyn." In the piece Oder notes: The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), in the Response to Comments chapter of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), called the loss of the building a significant adverse impact, but deemed adaptive reuse “not practicable.”)

Below is a description of the building Bruce Ratner wants to "recycle."

800 Pacific Street / Ward Baking Company Building
Date of completion: 1911
Original Function: Bakery

In 1911, the Ward Baking Company building at 800 Pacific Street was built as a gleaming white example of a modern industrial facility. The founder, George S. Ward, a captain of industry and soon-to-be baseball magnate, brought a team of architects to Europe for inspiration and they designed this building on the long boat ride home.

In a 1921 Ward Bakery Publication called The Story of our Research Products, company writers bragged about their founder, who had “the courage and the pioneer spirit to erect the first sanitary and scientific bakery in America.” The same publication describes the New York factory as “the snow-white temple of bread-making cleanliness.”

With four acres of area divided between its six floors and basement, this factory employed hundreds of New Yorkers. And with its capacity to turn out 250,000 loaves per day, it fed hundreds of thousands.

Eight hundred Pacific Street lies in a narrow corridor of Prospect Heights that was once housed several major industries interspersed with historic brownstones. Now this area is primarily residential, with a sprinkling of small business utilizing the soaring industrial spaces. The Ward Baking Company Building is now a storage facility.

The former Ward’s Bread Factory stretches from the south side of Pacific Street to the north side of Dean Street, between Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues, in the Prospect Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. It lies along a former industrial strip comprising three long blocks of Pacific and Dean Streets, characterized by large and architecturally magnificent industrial structures built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Within two blocks of the Spalding Building lies the Prospect Heights Historic District, a “cohesive district composed of single-family row houses and multiple dwellings almost all of which were built during the final thirty-five years of the nineteenth century” as described on its State and National Registers application.

The Ward’s building is six stories tall. The façade is comprised of glazed white terra cotta tiles. Graceful Grecian-inspired arches run the length of the building, front and back.

There is much ornamental detailing running the length of the building. At one end, stands a 120 foot smoke stack, previously used in the baking process.

It was built with 6 floors, a basement and sub-basement. The total area is more than four acres.

Windows that once contained glass or glass blocks have been filled in with cinder blocks. The interior has been altered to allow for a moving and storage business.

Historical Significance
In 1911, George S. Ward, President of the Ward Baking Company, and a team of architects returned from a European tour with plans for two great baking plants for the New York area. One was built in that year in the Bronx, the other in what is now Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

“We were gone for 30 days and when we returned the plans were completed,” Ward related to a journalist from The Baseball Magazine in 1926. “They were made literally in mid-Atlantic.” As evidenced from the graceful arches, the architects had been inspired by Greco-Roman designs.

Mr. Ward did not do things small. “We invested two million dollars in our New York venture before we turned a wheel or gained the market for a single loaf of bread,” he told The Baseball Magazine. “The day we started our great plants we loaded a hundred wagons with bread and sent them out, instructing our salesmen to give the bread away as samples. The next day we sent them out again, this time to sell bread. We have been selling bread ever since.”

The two New York plants each had a capacity of 250,000 loaves per day. In 1913, the combined output from Ward’s 13 factories around the country would bake enough loaves in one year that “if placed end to end, would [be] … nearly enough to twice circle the globe at the equator,” as reported in The Baseball Magazine. One reason for Ward’s success was the new, scientific baking methods the company pioneered. In 1909, George S. Ward consulted with scientists at the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh, PA and eventually set up fellowships so that scientists could study the relationship between water hardness and fermentation, and other questions inherent to goal of producing consistent, top-quality bread and cake for the entire nation. By 1916, the company set up its own Research Products Department with four scientists and several assistants.

Engineers developed innovative machinery that churned out millions of identical loaves and allowed Ward’s to advertise something unusual for that time: bread “untouched by the human hand.”

Thanks to his ground-breaking methods of both baking and business, Ward was an American success story, starting with a small bakery in Pittsburgh and building one of the most successful companies in America. His personal passion was baseball, and he went on to become vice president of the Federal League. The Baseball Magazine said he was “foremost among the masters of big business who make the Federal League.”

The monumental former factory at 800 Pacific Street is worthy of preservation not only on its aesthetic and architectural merits, but also because it tells the story of an important piece of American manufacturing history and was, in turn, an integral part of Prospect Heights, much of which is a State and National Historic District.

Posted: 3.23.07
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