Filed Under Industry

Tower Press

Upon entering the Tower Press building from Superior Avenue, one can not help but notice "The H. Black Co." engraved in tile over its doors. The Black family, enterprising Hungarian Jewish immigrants, decided to produce ready-to-wear clothing based on European patterns. The business began in their own home, and by 1883 Herman Black founded the H. Black Company as a manufacturer of women's coats and suits.

Morris Black, Herman's son born in 1868, became a designer in his father's company in 1890 after graduating from Harvard University. In 1903, Morris succeeded his father as president of the H. Black Co. He would go on to become responsible for turning Cleveland into a national leader in the garment industry, second only to New York in importance. In 1907, Morris moved the H. Black Co. from its original location in the Warehouse District to a state-of-the-art facility on Superior Avenue - what is now known as the Tower Press Building.

Morris Black believed that factories should be productive as well as pleasant workplaces for his employees. Black and architect Robert Kohn built a factory that provided attractive surroundings, proper ventilation, and ample lighting for his workers. The building consists of a two-story central wing connected by two three-story wings forming a "U" shape. In the rear of the building is a tower, square at the base and rising to become an octagon. When the Tower Press building was constructed, the surrounding area was mostly frame houses or undeveloped land. By the 1930s, however, the area became an emerging garment district, home to notable garment companies such as Bobbie Brooks, Inc., Joseph & Feiss Co., Cleveland Worsted Mill, Richman Brothers Co., and Printz-Biederman.

Morris Black served as president of the H. Black Co. until 1922, when the company merged with the Printz-Biederman Co. Printz-Biederman was founded in 1893 by Moritz Printz, master tailor and head designer of the H. Black Co. Black, however, continued to have an impact on the garment industry as head of the Cleveland Garment Manufacturer's Association, where he attempted to stabilize the garment industry by making agreements with labor unions, allowing for the impartial arbitration of workers' grievances during strikes.

On June 6, 1911, the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) staged a massive strike. Four thousand of Cleveland's garment workers took to the streets to protest unfair working conditions. Workers demanded a 50-hour work week with Saturday afternoons and Sundays off, but employers rejected their demands. The often violent strike lasted four months but ultimately failed as manufacturers were still able to fill their orders using smaller, non-union shops. Though the ILGWU eventually gained recognition and conditions gradually improved, the decline of Cleveland's garment industry, which began during the Great Depression and climaxed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, led to the loss of most of these jobs.

In 1928 the H. Black Building was renamed the Evangelical Building, becoming home to a publisher of religious materials. It housed a variety of tenants in the succeeding years, but by 1987 the building was vacant and remained so until 2002. Since then, the building has been remodeled, providing 8,000 square feet of retail and office space on the ground level as well as apartments on the upper levels. The 130-foot-tall tower has been turned into five floors of living space. It takes a climb of over 100 steps to reach its top.

Images

1948 ILGWU Strike, NYC In 1948, workers from the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in New York City protested unfair behavior by anti-Union activists. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
The Tower This 2009 photograph shows the tower on the southwest side of the Tower Press Building. It is now a five-story loft with a hundred stair steps leading to its top. Image courtesy of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Strikers Attack Man, ca. 1930s The man in this photo, circa 1930s, made the mistake of tackling a group of female strikers. The women retaliated. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Tower Press Entrance Visible in this 2009 photograph are the original signs above the building's Superior Avenue entrance. Wooltex was the brand of all-wool women's clothing that the H. Black Co. was internationally known for producing. Image Courtesy of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Employee ID, Bloch Company This 1933 identigraph verifies the identity of one of the Bloch Company's many employees. Mary Koch spoke many Central European languages including Polish, Slovak, Czech, and Hungarian and often served as a translator for the non-English speaking immigrant workers in the factory. Image Courtesy of James Dubelko
Bloch Company Workers, ca. 1930 Workers at the Bloch Company, one of Cleveland's many garment manufacturers, circa 1930. Image Courtesy of James Dubelko
Woman Sewing, ca. 1920 A woman sewing at the Joseph & Feiss Company, circa 1920. Women, many of them recent immigrants, made up a large majority of the work force at Joseph & Feiss and in the garment industry as a whole. The Joseph & Feiss Company was one of the largest garment manufacturers in Cleveland. Today the Joseph & Feiss Company still has a facility in the city on Tiedeman Road. Image Courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society
Assembling a Knitting Machine, 1940 Two men assemble a knitting machine in New Hampshire in 1940. Once completed, this machine would reel out sweaters for the United States Navy. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Cars Overturned During Strike These cars were overturned during a garment workers' strike in Woonsocket, Rhode Island in 1934. 5,000 soldiers were called up to quell this particular uprising, resulting in 1 death and 7 injuries. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
The Strike Ends These Charlotte, North Carolina strikers, circa 1930s, are eagerly reading about the end of a national textile strike which had also spread to the workers in Cleveland's garment industry. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections

Location

1900 Superior Ave, Cleveland, OH 44114

Metadata

“Tower Press,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 30, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/322.