Saginasty, Part 3: "Pat-A-Cake, Pat-A-Cake"

On Saginaw's south side at 1010 Hess lies a very large industrial plant that was mostly demolished when I came across it. It was last occupied by Saginaw Industrial Machining.


My comrade DopeNess Monster however had once been inside this facility several years ago while it was still a going concern, as his father's company needed some machining work farmed out and he had to go pick up the finished work if I recall correctly. He described it as a vast place of extremely cool old-school machinery, though the building was in somewhat shabby condition at the time.


The Sanborn map from 1936 shows it as Baker-Perkins Co. Inc., "manufacturers of ovens and baking machinery."


As it turns out Baker-Perkins Inc. has a rather extensive company history on their corporate website, much to my amazement. It also features an aerial photo of what the plant looked like in its heyday.


They noted that the plant already had been occupied by the Werner & Pfleiderer Co., and that the first parts were built in 1914. The buildings included a foundry and a pattern shop.


As that company was based in Stuttgart, Germany, when the U.S. entered WWI it was seized by the government. When the war ended the property was sold by the Alien Property Custodian.

In 1920 Joseph Baker & Sons Ltd. and Perkins Engineers Ltd. (who were in the process of joining to form Baker-Perkins Inc.) purchased the plant, and their sales division moved from White Plains, New York into the new plant offices. They began building expansions onto the factory in 1922.


Baker-Perkins actually ended up partnering with their German competitor Werner & Pfleiderer, who were making production machinery for bread, biscuits, and macaroni in this plant. Like most other companies Baker-Perkins did well up until 1929, but suffered in the Great Depression. There was a strike here in 1936 with the "newly formed labor unions."


By the time the Nazi regime came around, this further strained economic relations with Werner & Pfleiderer, as most of Baker-Perkins's due profits from its Stuttgart operations were held by the Nazi government. Of course with the escalation of political upheaval, and eventually war, this relationship was severed, and the Werner & Pfleiderer plant in Germany "suffered considerable destruction."


The coming of WWII war contracts however swiftly put everything back on track for the Saginaw plant, and then some. They were called upon to build machinery, such as mixing equipment for smokeless gunpowder and cordite, horizontal boring mills, shell lathes, grinders, and even began to develop specialized mixers for rocket fuel and explosives. 


Baker-Perkins also turned out some actual products, such as foundry castings for landing boat propellers, and air raid sirens. They even fabricated hull sections for destroyer escorts, and rudders for the seagoing rescue tugs that the Defoe Shipbuilding Co. of Bay City was making for Britain using their famous "roll-over method" of construction.


The plant even had its own wartime newsletter, which is featured in .pdf format on the company website.


Back in 1929 Baker-Perkins had acquired the Century Baking Co. of Cincinnati, and during WWII they developed a portable field bakery that was essentially a hardened military trailer unit that could produce bread. For this invention Baker-Perkins received the Army-Navy "E" Award, and even after the end of the war they continued to make the wheeled bakery trailers here at the Saginaw plant for a few years.


I found this old-school steel building to be rather intriguing and unique:


According to this tag, this was a Truscon Standard Building, manufactured by Truscon Steel Co. of Youngstown, Ohio:


It was 1948 before Baker-Perkins's relations with Werner & Pfleiderer resumed. Otto Fahr, the head of the German plant operations was even charged with being a Nazi party member, and with constructing cremation ovens for the death camps, but these allegations were proven false in court. It was instead found that Fahr had actually used his influence in Stuttgart to thwart the Gestapo and resist their demands.


The postwar period was a boom time for Baker-Perkins, but by the 1950s the industry had slowed down again and competition in their field became fierce. Many such equipment manufacturers either closed down or merged.

There was a five-week strike of the Saginaw plant in 1962. 


Things had improved by 1964 and they found themselves benefiting from space exploration by developing mixers for solid rocket propellant, and the company began to swing toward the chemical industry again. By the 1970s, their production of chemical industry-related machinery surpassed their output of food industry-related machinery.


This plant's location within the halo of the Michigan automotive manufacturing industry also ensured that wages paid for workers in the plant were relatively high. If they did not remain competitive with UAW wages, employees would simply quit and go work in an auto plant.


There were about 700 employed at this plant in 1976. Roughly half of the plant's workers were organized under Local 897 International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers.


Production at this plant also began to include machine tools such as lathes and boring mills, grinders, and presses, as sub-contract work under several leading tool-maker brands, and even oil-drilling equipment.


The wind was like a knife on this unseasonably bitter November day, so I moved along as quickly as I could.


This concrete structure is labeled on the Sanborns as "Factory 2." It is marked as having been built in 1917 and 1928, and as containing lacquer spray booths:


By the 1980s the high labor costs in Michigan, and especially in Saginaw, made the cost of manufacturing go up, and with a month-and-a-half-long strike in 1980, the company began to look at options for relocating operations. Their food machinery division moved from Saginaw in 1981 to North Carolina.


Despite major technological advancements by their chemical division, the Baker-Perkins operations in Saginaw remained squeezed under economic pressures, and in 1985 cutbacks began. 


Baker-Perkins was merged in 1987, and the operations experienced another shift away from chemical industry business to food industry business.  This plant was closed in April of that year, though some operations remained, such as customer demonstrations, in the newer portion of the front offices.


The plant was subdivided and sold off to an investor named Lou Beers who leased it to Saginaw Industrial Machining, which just so happened to have been started by an ex-Baker-Perkins machinist. There were also spaces leased to Minfor Power Trane Systems. 


According to a few other internet hits, another tenant called Quality Roll LLC, who did steel rolling and fabricating, shared the plant with Saginaw Industrial Machining around 2007. Quality Roll remained at least until 2010.


Mr. Beers eventually passed away, and his inheritors wanted nothing to do with the plant, since both it and the surrounding neighborhood were deteriorating, and the complex ended up in the Saginaw Land Bank for back taxes. It stood empty and derelict for a few years.


This was "all very sad," stated a letter from an ex-employee, quoted in the Baker-Perkins company history, because this plant was once the largest employer in Saginaw, second only to General Motors, with 1,100 workers here in 1969.


Today, there are "less than 40" Baker-Perkins employees in the office space that remains, which has been fortified with razor wire against the worsening neighborhood.


According to a c.2014 Michigan DEQ document, new owner Saginaw Development LLC (curiously enough based in Florida) was cited by the DEQ for sloppy demolition, environmental violations, and debris left behind from the demolition they were conducting here in 2011.

I guess that explains why the place was half-knocked down but no machines were on site as if it were ever going to be completed.


It's worth noting that just a few blocks east from here, at 1730-2000 Hess, was once the headquarters of the great Lufkin Rule Co., another of the very important building blocks that made Saginaw an industrial titan over a century ago.


I was pretty impressed by how little graffiti and scrapping had apparently occurred here, despite being completely wide-open to trespass.


One tag I did notice however was "S.U.E.," or "Saginaw Urban Exploring," I presume.








These small cranes were present everywhere, and illustrate the fact that both Baker-Perkins, and the subsequent tenants of this factory were manufacturing some pretty large finished items:




Despite a reinforced concrete sub-structure this building's exposed facades sported decorative brick for an old-timey effect, and to match the old portions of the complex. An especially nice touch, I thought:






This rather mighty craneway was a one of the more interesting features of this plant:


As you can see it used to extend northward into "Factory 3."




Offices:












Clearly the demolition had been quite extensive before I ever got here, as another large building obviously once sat here:


This skylight was quite the novel attraction, so I spent a lot of time taking shots of it from every conceivable angle:














The opposite end of the main craneway:



1 comment:

  1. My grandfather, who is now 88, worked here for a substantial amount of time. He now has the one of the original 'Baker-Perkins' signs hanging in his basement. I'm excited to show him these pictures and hear the stories that come from it.

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