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The Morgan Millwork Company, now known as the MICA Graduate Studio Center, is a product of Baltimore’s once vibrant industrial development and a clear reflection of how industry has struggled in Baltimore over the past 50 years. J. Earl Morgan together with his cousin, Albert T. Morgan, incorporated the Morgan Company in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin in 1889, building on an enterprise first established by their fathers in 1868 to manufacture processed lumber and shingles. Here in Baltimore, J. Earl Morgan partnered with Charles A. Hanscom to start a Baltimore office for the Morgan Millwork Company in 1910. Within a few years, they purchased a property from Frank Ehlen on the south side of North Avenue just west of Maryland Avenue with the plan to construct a “sales distributing plant” for $60,000.
The Morgan Millwork Company remained on West North Avenue for nearly 60 years, selling and distributing a range of building products produced by Morgan Millwork, Andersen Window-all, Armstrong Cork and others, to contractors, lumber yards and building supply firms. In 1971, the company announced their plans to move from North Avenue to a new 90,000 square foot office in Baltimore County in a 1,000 acre industrial complex known as Chesapeake Park, developed by the Martin-Marietta Corporation.
Next to take over the building, was Max Rubin Industries, a Baltimore clothing manufacturer established by Max Rubin — a unique character with a personal passion for poetry and a reputation for employing people with disabilities. Over the years, Rubin wrote over 3000 poems on such varied topics as the 1952 Baltimore transit strike and the historic old Otterbein Church (located across the street from one of his factories) gaining him recognition as the Poet Laureate of Baltimore in 1947. His business grew from a modest start in the 1920s with a small chain of stores in West Virginia and Pennsylvania before he moved to Baltimore in the 1930s. By the 1970s had become one of the city’s oldest clothing manufacturers. Regrettably, the loss of a large government contract and the challenges of the late 1970s recession brought an end to the business in 1983. On Christmas Day, a small classified ad appeared announcing an auction to sell of all the sewing machines, cutting tables and clothes presses at West North Avenue on January 9, 1983.
Even as Baltimore’s struggling textile industry continued to slide, in 1984 this building again found a use as a factory for Jos. A. Bank Clothiers to produce suit coats at the rate of 5,000 a week. Jos. A. Bank has deep Baltimore roots, dating back to 1905 when 11-year old Joseph A. Bank got a job working for his grandfather, Charles Bank, cutting trousers in the family owned factory. The firm continued to produce clothes at Baltimore factories until they ended all production in the United States in the mid-1990s.
For the past fifteen years, the building has been occupied as studios for students at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The building is currently undergoing a transformation into a hub for MICA’s graduate study programs with renovations led by architects Cho Benn Holback + Associates to create shared galleries, a lecture hall, meeting rooms, work and fabrication space, café, and painting, mixed-media and photography studios.
Text from Eli Pousson. Cover photo by Kurt Waters via baltimoreheritage.org.