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  • Writer's pictureSandvick Architects

Sharing the History of the Columbus Kroger Bakery & Ford Assembly Plant

The Columbus Kroger Bakery closed down in 2019 and shortly after was put on the Columbus Landmarks list of Endangered Buildings. However, plans for redevelopment will soon bring new life to this historic site. The existing site has two historic buildings - what was once the Ford Assembly Plant and the old Kroger Bakery.

South Building History: Ford Assembly Plant

The historic Ford Assembly Plant was built in 1914 as part of a wave of new Model T assembly plants that were being built across the United States. In the company's effort to develop a nationwide distribution system for their mass-produced automobile, Ford determined that shipping parts to regional assembly plants for final assembly and delivery to customer was more efficient than shipping fully assembled cars, with the added benefit of creating regional supplies of parts on hand for faster repairs.

From 1912 to 1915, Ford constructed 28 such plants, all following the same basic design by architect John Graham, arranged so that parts were delivered to the top floor and assembled into complete Model Ts when they hit ground level, to be sold directly from a showroom on the factory's first floor or distributed to regional dealerships.

When the Columbus factory was constructed, it was hailed in local news as "probably the most modern in the city," noting it's "strictly fireproof" construction and its use of "daylight construction," with expansive windows providing ample natural light and ventilation. The plant employed several hundred workers, all earning the $5-per-day minimum wage that Ford had established for the company.

Although the plant's multi-story arrangement was rendered impractical after Ford's development of the moving assembly-line, Ford continued assembly operations at the Columbus plant until 1932, finally closing the facility in 1939. The property was sold to the State of Ohio in 1943 and was eventually acquired by the Kroger Company in 1979, who used the factory to expand their adjacent bakery operation.

North Building History: Kroger Bakery and Warehouse

The Kroger Bakery and Warehouse was completed in 1928. Kroger - a large regional grocery chain originally established in Cincinnati - was the first grocer in the United States to create their own bakeries, in an effort to control the quality and price of bread offered in its stores. By the time the Columbus bakery was constructed, it was the eight such plant operated by Kroger in the Midwest.

Dubbed "Columbus' Pantry" in local advertisements announcing its construction, the company touted its state-of-the-art facilities - like a 75-foot traveling oven that could produce 2,400 pounds of bread each hour, giant mixers holding 1,300 pounds each, and three cracker ovens baking over 43,000 pounds of crackers a day. The facility also included an "egg candling room," where up to 98,000 eggs per day could be tested before being shipped to Kroger stores, banana ripening chambers holding 6 train carloads of the fruit and matching conditions "of its native land," and 3 coffee roasters with a daily capacity of over 20,000 pounds.

When the facility opened in 1928, Kroger hosted well-promoted open house events, inviting the public to witness its impressive organization and capabilities.

Kroger continued to operate the Columbus Bakery and Warehouse for over 90 years, constructing additions to the original building and eventually expanding into the adjacent Ford Assembly Plant in 1979. It finally ceased operations in 2019.

Future Plans for the Kroger Bakery

Future plans for the Kroger Bakery and its 10-acre site include restoration of the South and North Buildings along with new construction to create residential apartments, indoor parking, expansive amenity spaces for all residents, and white-box space for future retail space.

While the plans have not yet been finalized, there are not yet any renderings ready to be shared.

Stay tuned for more updates to come on this exciting project!

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