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Lebow Brothers Clothing Company

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.

The wastefulness of it was hard to convey in words or images. I thought of how many homeless people or impoverished families could have benefited from the coats, how men who might not have been able to afford a suit jacket for a job interview could have had a new opportunity because of them. Often when companies go bankrupt all the assets are seized with hopes of selling them off to pay creditors, but sometimes rather than go to the effort to do so - particularly with smaller items that might not bring big returns - they will instead be left to rot. Wading through an ocean of coats makes one very aware of how flawed this system can be, and what the practical cost is.

I wish I could go back to Lebow again and spend more time there. I don't think I fully appreciated at the time how full of opportunities it was, how all the intact machines and coats and mementos of the lives of the workers there would make it one of the most unique and memorable sites I've visited. I wish I could retake the pictures with my current equipment and knowledge. These images aren't as technically perfect as I wish, nor is the set as comprehensive as I feel Lebow merited. It deserved much more than just one afternoon. I'm glad that the school took over and reused the buildings, but will be sad forever that Lebow as I knew it is gone.

If you'd like to learn more about this location, it is a featured chapter in the new Abandoned America book Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences. Signed copies are available through my website, or you can find (unsigned) copies available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online booksellers across the globe.

Photographs and unattributed text by Matthew Christopher. For more images click the thumbnails below.