On the west side of East 55and Street near Lake Erie, at the north end of the street stands a large abandoned factory building. Looking at it today, it’s hard to believe it was once home to one of Cleveland’s most successful businesses.
Advertisement for Richman Bros Co. 1920Built in 1917, it was the headquarters of Richman Brothers, a manufacturer of high quality men’s clothing for over 100 years. The company’s progressive management offered employees unheard-of benefits, such as interest-free loans and paid vacations for hourly workers.
Such was the management’s sense of duty to the community that when the building was completed, it was immediately made available for use as a hospital to care for wounded soldiers from the First World War.
The story began in Portsmouth, Ohio, when Bavarian immigrants Henry Richman Sr. and his brother-in-law Joseph Lehman founded Lehman-Richman Co. in 1853. Seeking broader opportunities, they moved in Cleveland in 1879. In 1904 the name was changed to Richman. Brothers like Harry Richman’s three sons then took over the business.
Nearly 40 years after the move to Cleveland, Richman Brothers opened its first factory purpose-built to manufacture garments, consolidating its manufacturing operations under one roof at 1600 E. 55and St.
The new building was designed by the firm of Christian, Schwartzenburg and Gaede (now Neville Architects in Beachwood), the Gaede in this case representing Oscar Gaede, the father of Robert C. Gaede, one of Cleveland’s most influential in the end of the 20and Architects of the century.
The factory was met with great acclaim, with the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce declaring it “the best-built factory of 1917”.
The Richman Brothers Building 2014
Later additions in the 1920s expanded the structure to its current size of 650,000 square feet – with 17 acres under one roof. The new building offered unprecedented working conditions in the garment industry. 15 foot high windows provided an abundance of natural light and the 60 foot long cutting tables were the largest in the industry.
Employees were treated with courtesy and consideration. In addition to two weeks of paid vacation – one week at Christmas and one week on July 4 – Richman Brothers offered paid maternity leave, a 36-hour workweek when 48-hour weeks were common, and pensions after age 15. on duty. . The company also offered stock options, held company picnics at Euclid Beach Park, and in 1949 added a third week of paid vacation.
Workers sewing clothes at the Richman Brothers factory in 1927The employees never unionized because of the caring treatment of their employer.
Richman Brothers’ rapport with their employees was so strong that it is said that they could stand at the front door and greet each employee by name as they arrived. This involved personal knowledge of each of the 2,000 employees.
Nathan Richman was the last survivor of the original three brothers. He was held in such high esteem that when he died in 1941, 2,000 Richman Brothers employees attended his funeral.
The business continued to grow and expand for decades thereafter, and a new Richman Brothers suit for weddings and graduations was a rite of passage for generations of young men in the Cleveland area.
For decades, the company held the contract to manufacture Cleveland Police Department uniforms.
Remaining independent for over a century, Richman Brothers merged with the FW Woolworth Company in 1969. By the mid-1970s, there were hundreds of Richman Brothers stores in 39 states.
Twenty years later, Woolworth began to divest itself of less successful subsidiaries. Richman Brothers was considered one such company and ceased to exist in 1992 – a sad end to what was once one of Cleveland’s great business success stories.
The building was listed in 2012 on the National Register of Historic Places. Today it stands empty, deserted for 30 years and now listed as a redevelopment opportunity with a $3.5 million asking price that many consider too high to attract developers.
All in all, a very sad ending to the story of something once considered a Cleveland showcase.
Remember, all glory is fleeting.