Originally part of the Crown Cork & Seal Company, the factory at 1500 Barclay Street in Baltimore that would later become Lebow was built by architect Herbert West in 1914 to serve as a machine shop. According to the Baltimore Heritage website, “between two and three hundred people worked at the machine shop and employees benefited from amenities including an outdoor rooftop recreation area for ladies and a separate area for men in the building’s courtyard.” In 1950 the building was leased to the Lebow Brothers Clothing Company, who manufactured high end men’s apparel including suits and coats, hundreds of which were still left in the factory when it closed in 1985. The closure was due to a variety of factors including relaxed dress standards in the workplace which lead to an overall decline in men’s clothing stores.
The factory building was redeveloped by Seawall Development Corp as part of a $26.5 million project to repurpose the site for the Baltimore Design School. The groundbreaking for the school was slated to take place on May 7, 2013 and the school was opened for the 2013-2014 school year.
When I visited the factory in 2008, it was still full of hundreds upon hundreds of coats, many still in their plastic slip covers and in perfect condition. As we entered the main gate a young man with soot on his face was leaving. He asked us what we were doing, and we replied, “What are YOU doing?” He looked sheepish for a second then replied, “Scrapping.” Upon entering the factory I was struck by two things: the first was that any errant spark from cutting metal out would turn the place into a maze-like inferno. The second was that it would be infinitely easier to steal coats and sell them than it would be to cut out scrap.