Fairmont Creamery Company was founded in Fairmont, Nebraska, near Omaha, in 1884—an early “national dairy” with operations stretching from the Dakotas to Buffalo, New York. Fairmont was a pioneer in milk can pickup and one of the first creameries to provide farmers with their own hand-operated cream separators. In 1948 the company was re-branded as Fairmont Foods. It also became a Fortune 500 company and was granted a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in 1959.
Fairmont Creamery’s Cleveland operation opened in 1930 in a five-story building at 2306 West 17th Street, directly across Willey Avenue from what is now the Animal Protective League. Designed with two floors of manufacturing space and room for 75 delivery trucks, the facility also could accommodate railcar delivery input and output through its lower floor receiving room. For decades, a variety of dairy products were processed and distributed at the Cleveland facility. Local residents bought ice cream cones at a retail window. Employees from Tremont and Ohio City enjoyed short walks to work.
In the early 1980s all of Fairmont Foods’ properties and subsidiaries were either sold or closed, including the Cleveland operation. The West 17th Street building stayed largely empty for roughly 30 years, save for a small nickel-chrome-plating business that worked out of the basement. Dust, debris and an occasional squatter were all that occupied the remaining spaces.
In 2013, a trio of aggressive young developers—recent graduates of Oberlin College—stepped in and brought new life to the old building. Ben Ezinga, Josh Rosen and Naomi Sabe, founders of Sustainable Community Architects, purchased the building for $450,000. Comprising federal New Markets Tax Credits; state and federal historic preservation tax credits; a JobsOhio grant; city vacant property initiative funds; private equity investment; and a Goldman Sachs construction loan, $15 million was poured into a residential/commercial renovation, which was completed in 2015. The repurposed creamery includes 30 apartments and several ground-floor businesses.
Sustainable Community Architects worked to retain and celebrate the building’s history. Walk-in coolers were transformed into bedrooms and gym locker rooms. Huge concrete columns and beams, along with brick interior walls (originally glazed for food safety) became interior highlights. Windows, doors and signs were rebuilt in the 1930s style. According to Josh Rosen “the building is a reminder that people make stuff in this city; we wanted to expose the building’s original features rather than hide them.”
At the same time, the property also incorporates the best of the new. Natural light permeates living spaces. Each apartment has a unique design and layout. A 3,500-square-foot rooftop deck offers a place to lounge, garden, picnic and enjoy panoramic views of downtown Cleveland. However, the best juxtaposition of old and new may be that Fairmont Creamery is concurrently a Cleveland Landmark and a site on the National Register of Historic Places, and conforms to modern eco-friendly standards such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Enterprise Green Communities.