In the late 19th century, the Alma Manufacturing Company in southwest Baltimore was a major employer and a hub of technological innovation. As Baltimore’s industrial economy declined in the decades after WWII, the complex, like many others, began to deteriorate. In January 2001, the historic buildings were severely damaged in a fire started by then owner Mahendra “Mike” Shah. Shah was arrested and convicted for his crime but the buildings remain abandoned today. Without a new use or a plan for redevelopment, the structure are threatened with demolition by neglect.
611-661 S. Monroe Street, Baltimore, MD
Vacant industrial buildings like the former Alma Manufacturing Company building are a challenge for many legacy cities. Fortunately, there are clear models for adaptive reuse thanks to the success of projects like the American Can Company, Clipper Mill, and Miller’s Court. We support the recognition of the former Alma Manufacturing Company as an important landmark in Baltimore’s industrial history and advocate the preservation and reuse of the structure as an asset for the revitalization of southwest Baltimore.
Founded in 1887 by 28-year-old German immigrant Herman Kerngood, the Alma Manufacturing Company manufactured a wide variety of metal clothing trimmings including buckles, clasps, fasteners and steel buttons. Before Kerngood started his operation, conveniently located alongside the Baltimore & Ohio railroad tracks, textile companies in the United States had imported all their steel buttons from Germany. The firm produced around 35,000 specialized products (the “Superior Pantaloon Button” and “Perfect Trousers’ Hook” to name just a few) and could be found attached to hats, umbrellas, shoes and, of course, clothing produced at factories around the country.
Kerngood lived in northwest Baltimore at The Esplanade and attended Oheb Shalom Synagogue up until his death in 1932. Herman’s sons, Allan and Martin, continued to grow the business, producing around 29 million pieces a month at its height, and maintaining sales offices in cities around the U.S. and internationally. The original complex on Monroe Street closed in 1940 and, in 1946, the Alma Manufacturing Company sold to the North and Judd Manufacturing Company of New Britain, Connecticut.
Over the past 70 years, the Monroe Street complex has been used by bakers, tailors and even candy manufacturers, including the Standard Tailors Company, Acme Packing Company, George Weston Bakers, Peyton Bakers Supply Company, Columbia Container Corporation and American Plastics Industries. Baltimore’s Naron Candy Company, founded in 1945 by Jim Ross and Gerald Naron, occupied the building in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s before their merger with Mary Sue Candies in 1996. Mahendra Shah purchased the building around 1983 and rented the facility as the Shah Industrial Park. In 2001, Shah started a fire in the building which has left it in a perilous state today.
Last Updated: December 8, 2014
Special thanks to Carol Ott from Baltimore Slumlord Watch for bringing this issue to our attention.