Plans for Hoboken's Wonder Bread Factory Coversion

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Mon, Nov 10th 2008 02:50:56 pm

By Timothy J. Carroll  -Hoboken Reporter staff writer

Maximo Rodriguez has vowed that his family will never sell their historic former factory building to a developer.
However, he has applied to the Zoning Board to convert it to a mixed-use condominium and commercial space some time in the future.

Rodriguez is an owner - part of a family partnership - of the former Wonder Bread factory at Eighth and Clinton streets, which also had served as the famous Schmalz Jersey Cream Malt Bread factory for many years.

Today, the big red building takes up more than half of a block just south of Hoboken High School and has various tenants. Dating back to the dawn of the last century, it has faced fires and the cruel passage of time.

But its tenants have altered it to fit their modern needs, like the crew that pumps out custom skateboards to be shipped around the world. And the upstart dog spa that caters to the pampered pets of Hoboken. And the artist who uses all different sorts of tape in his displays.

The tenants say they are glad that they've had the chance to slave away in one of the city's last industrial buildings before they face the possibility of being phased out.

Losing old buildings

One by one, the industrial buildings of mile-square Hoboken have found their fate as rubble as condominiums have taken over.

In the last few months, the Neumann Leathers buildings on Observer Highway, a group of 14 factories that once served as tanneries, have been subject to Zoning Board hearings by a developer who hopes to demolish them and build 251 units of housing. The artists renting space there are fighting for the buildings to be renovated rather than razed.

And uptown at Fifteenth and Willow, the Burlington Coat Factory retail store is due to be torn down next year.

But the historic bread factory is still standing, and Rodriguez said he will not knock it down; only renovate it.

Architect Dean Marchetto said last week that the building has "great historic bones" and a solid foundation for a rehab process.

He said a good architect should always try to save a building when it can be saved, and that this factory does not have the contamination issues that he said the Neumann Leathers buildings have.

Marchetto happens to be the architect for the hopeful developers of the Neumann Leathers land as well.

Where they baked bread

Rodriguez's family has owned the building since 1977, and presently uses it to run the Atlantic Tropical Market fruit and produce warehouse on the Clinton Street side. They also own the small warehouse across the street.

Before the Rodriguez family purchased the factory, it was being used by a meat-packing company. But the building's real history is in bread.

From the early 1900s through the 1960s, it served as the family-owned Schmalz Jersey Cream Malt Bread factory, which even contained a stable for the horse-drawn carriages that delivered the product to stores.

The company was founded in 1865, the last year of the Civil War, by John Schmalz, who was born in Germany in 1840 and came to America in his twenties. The first site of the bakery was on Park Avenue (then called Meadow Street), and it produced bread and rolls. Schmalz also had a separate store on the same street to sell the goods.

When the business began thriving, the family built the large factory at Eighth and Clinton streets, according to an article in a 1996 Hoboken Historical Society newsletter by Nan Harp Schmalz Nelson, a relative of the company's founders.

Eventually, they renamed the company John Schmalz & Sons when five of John's sons entered the business.

The bread company endured several mergers with other companies until it became Continental Baking Company and then part of the ITT Corp in the 1960s. For some time, Wonder Bread was manufactured in the building as well.

Hoboken old-timers may remember a sign on the factory urging consumers to "EAT JERSEY CREAM MALT BREAD."

Inside the factory

The new plan calls for retail on the ground floor and condominiums on top. So unless the current cluster of tenants can adapt their space for commercial use, they will have to make other plans if the new building is granted variances by the Zoning Board.

The tenants are a varied bunch, and they all say they love the space.

Manoli Papagiannakis, the co-owner of Mike's Unfinished Furniture, has held down the 20,000 square feet on the backside of the factory along Grand Street since 1985. Papagiannakis said his wing of the factory was the horse stable at one point. His company sells unvarnished furniture - although they do finish some of the well-crafted pieces in-house - and he creates custom furniture to fit the smaller spaces in Hoboken's condos and apartments.

A relatively new tenant is Mike Stigliano, the owner of Hoboken Unleashed, a doggie "daycare, hotel, and spa." He's been in the building for a year and a half. He said the town is perfect for his sort of business.

"I mean, there's a lot of dogs," Stigliano noted.

Mike Dallas, team manager from Bustin Boards, said his troop found the space in the factory "unreal."

At Bustin Boards, Dallas works with co-founders Ryan Daughtridge and Matt Colvin and a handful of other come-as-you-wish contributors. They design and manufacture custom longboard skateboards. They sketch the designs, create screens to mark up the bamboo and maple boards, and ship them to web customers and a distributor.

When asked what he would do if he has to give up the space, Dallas said, "If that's what happens, we pick up and move to the next place." But he said they count their blessings for every day they have in the factory.

"We don't have a lot of money, but we have a lot of ideas," Dallas said. "We just try not to let the man bring us down."

Another tenant, artist Eric Klein, was a DJ, emcee, and hopeful actor when he discovered the wonders of tape. He started experimenting with designs using some tape that was sitting around.

"I just thought to myself one day, 'That would look cool,' " Klein said. "So I taught myself."

His materials range from duct to masking tape to Scotch. Klein has been collecting different types for three years, and creates "pop art" designs like a Nintendo controller or the ace of spades.

He has worked in the factory for a year and recently shared his 3,000 square feet with a few other artists during Hoboken's annual Art Studio Tour.

The building also includes a graphic designer, a renowned freelance photographer, several other artists, and a prominent furniture designer.

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