What happened to the Crunden-Martin Manufacturing Co.

Crunden-Martin building #5 burned in downtown St. Louis this week, starting on Thursday.

Crunden-Martin was a manufacturer of wooden and metal household goods in downtown St. Louis for nearly 100 years, but sadly, the old complex has been sitting mostly or entirely empty since late 1990. Since there’s very little information online about the company, I thought I’d research it.

The seven-building complex, which is on the national register of historic places, was built between 1904 and 1920. Building 5, which burned, was designed and built in 1912 by the firm of Mauran, Russell & Crowell. A large bridge connected it to building 2. Skip Gatermann captured this image of a train passing under the bridge on the Crunden-Martin complex about five months before the company closed. I believe building 5 is the one of the left.

According to the application to the national register of historic places, as of 2004 the buildings were still in good condition, with most of the damage confined to two of the buildings. Unfortunately, there just aren’t many candidates in the St. Louis area to operate a facility of that size, which is why it’s been sitting empty for 21 years. The buildings had changed very little from the time of their construction, and featured intricate brick arches and rich, dark wood floors.

Crunden-Martin formed in 1891 as a result of the merger of Udell & Crunden (founded in 1876 as Udell, Schmieding and Company) and the Martin Wooden Ware Company (founded in 1890). At the time, St. Louis dominated the wooden and willow ware market, a category of consumer goods that included buckets, casks, tubs, ladles, bread bowls, and baskets. Crunden-Martin quickly became the second largest supplier in this category, second to the Samuel Cupples Woodenware Co.

Soon Crunden-Martin expanded and began manufacturing toys, furniture specialties, baby carriages, go karts and refrigerators in its factories as well.

At mid-century, Crunden-Martin employed about 500 people. During World War II, they made helmets, stoves, buckets and five-gallon gasoline cans for the U.S. military. In the 1950s, it shifted from production of wooden utensils to metal, and grew into one of the country’s largest producers of paper kites, selling them under the Top Flite brand name.

But by 1990, Crunden-Martin was running out of steam. Reduced to 70 employees manufacturing lunch and freezer bags, galvanized ware, paper kites (among the last companies to make them), and paper school supplies, it filed for bankruptcy in June 1990. An attempt at reorganization failed, and Crunden-Martin closed its doors in November 1990. The complex sold at auction in 1992 for $90,000–18 cents per square foot. Although they’ve been adorned with for-lease signs for years, to my knowledge there have been no takers.

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