American Can Company
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National Register of Historic Places
American Can Company of Utah Building Complex, Ogden, Weber, UT
The American Can Company of Utah Building Complex is comprised of a total of eight warehouse buildings. The buildings developed over time from 1914 to 1930 on the site.
The American Can Company of Utah building complex, located in Ogden, Utah, and constructed between 1914 and 1930, is significant as one of two complexes left in Ogden that signify the role the city played as the center point of a canning industry that was once one of the top five in the nation. (Ogden Examiner, January 10, 1915)
The American Can facility's function differed from the other local canning-related buildings as they were actual food canning facilities. The American Can facility manufactured metal cans for the various fruit and vegetable processing plants located throughout not only Utah, but also the Intermountain West. At the beginning of the 20th century agricultural production expanded from home-use/subsistence to more of a commercial role. Farmers began development of co-operative associations which became a strong market force nationally and led to the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922 which solidified the co-operatives' power. American Can looked nationally to place can manufacturing facilities at strategic locations to meet the demand of this growing market that changed the American farming experience. The central location of Ogden as a rail transportation hub, the large variety of agricultural production occurring in the region, and the farming cooperative movement to reduce costs and secure a larger share of the consumer dollar were the ingredients needed for American Can to choose Ogden as the location for its regional facility. The American Can complex was a phased development that grew and changed with the expanding industry. Construction began on the first building in 1914 and the last building in the existing complex was constructed in 1930. (Ogden Examiner, December 14, 1919)
The campus of this complex of buildings occupies the north half of the 2100 block between Grant and Lincoln Avenues in Ogden City. The American Can complex was the only facility of its kind to be constructed in the Intermountain region.
The general appearance of the buildings on the site is two parallel rows of block-long buildings that run east and west on the property. The buildings create a solid building wall along the south side of 20th Street between Lincoln and Grant Avenues. One building in the site to the north of these rows was developed as the boiler plant for the facility in 1926. A 105-foot-tall brick smokestack is next to this building with the wording "American Can Co. of Utah" spelled in cream-colored bricks vertically on the stack. Each new building constructed on the site is done in such a manner that there are no gaps between buildings, except for the boiler building, thus creating the appearance of a solid building mass. The design of each consecutive building is slightly different from its predecessor. The two largest buildings are three stories in height. All the buildings have a four-foot-tall concrete foundation. The high foundation allowed the main floor to be at dock-loading level. Docks are located on the north and south sides of each building. The main exterior material of these two buildings is a light ocher brick laid in an American or common bond pattern (5-6 courses of bricks laid in a stretcher running pattern then a row of brick laid in a header orientation.) The other buildings in the complex are single-story in height. All are designed with loading docks that front the public street on 20th and also on Grant Avenue. There is also an interior railroad spur that ran between the buildings. All the building sections except the section on the corner of 20th Street and Lincoln Avenue follow the general material palette of ochre-colored brick and concrete though they are used in different proportions. The corner section of the building is constructed with a steel frame painted black with clear glass factory sash windows as the main exterior material. In the last year the 1926 section of the building has undergone an adaptive reuse as a charter school, which has been approved for federal tax credits. The rehabilitation will be described below.
The area has changed drastically since the buildings were constructed. To the northwest was another large manufacturing facility, the Becker Brewery. It was demolished in the 1970s and replaced by nondescript metal buildings that house a variety of uses. Immediately to the west is the vacant two-story building that housed a mineral company. Other surrounding uses were a glass company in a single-story structure and vacant lots.
Original 1914 Building
The first building was constructed on the site in 1914 and began operation in 1915. This building is one of the three-story structures of the complex and is located on the southwest corner of the site. The building is rectangular in shape (measuring 80 feet by 237 feet) with the narrow end facing west on to Lincoln Avenue. The building has a brick facade with metal-framed window openings. It is constructed of wood posts, floor joists, ceiling rafters and roof decking. The exterior appearance is typical industrial vernacular architecture. The exterior has a rhythmic pattern of 16 feet 4 inch-wide bays that are defined by 2 feet 1 inch-wide brick pilasters that extend to the square of the building at the top of the third story. There are 5 bays on the west side of the building and 14 on the north and south sides of the building. The brick on the stepped parapets on the east and west ends was originally painted black and had white lettering spelling the words "American Can Company."
A four-foot-tall concrete dock extends the length of the building on the north side and from the fourth bay east on the south side projecting 10 feet from the building. This dock was used to load materials onto or from the trains that pulled up to the side of the building. Both the north and south sides of the building had train tracks parallel to them. The northern tracks have been removed but the southern tracks are still in place.
Windows, or windows and doors, are located within each bay of the building. The fenestration design features rectangular openings with three rows of brick forming a segmented arch over each opening. The ground level of the western portion of the building was used as office space and the window design of the office area is one-over-one double-hung wood sash. Two windows are equally spaced in each bay on the ground level, and measure 7 feet 6 inches tall and 4 feet 8 inches wide. The double-hung windows are along the northern portion of the building for two bays and along the southern portion of the building for five bays. The window style changes east of the double-hung windows to a metal-framed divided-pane window. The window size and shape with the segmented arch are still the same but the glass is divided into 25 panes per window with five panes vertically and five panes horizontally. In the middle of the windowpane system, three panes both horizontally and vertically are constructed into a frame which functions as an awning style window to allow air into the building.
The original construction had two doors in the first bay on the northwest corner of the building. Another door was constructed in the center bay on the southern opening. A concrete stairway led to each of these doors; however, the doors no longer exist and the concrete stairways have been removed. Windows have been installed where the doors were in the same one-over-one design as the rest of the office portion of the building. The bottom portions of the door openings have been bricked in. The brick color does not match the original brick and it is apparent that infill work has taken place even though the bricks are toothed in so that there is no apparent opening line. The present front door, which is an aluminum-colored metal door, required the removal of a window and cutting of the wall to create the opening. It appears that this opening was created in the 1950s. A concrete stairway leads to the door. On the north side, in the third bay, the window opening is rectangular with no segmented arch above it. This window has a screen encasement limiting the opening of the awning. It appears that a bathroom was behind the window and the restrictive device was planned. It also appears that the same square-style window had existed at one time in the third bay on the south side, but at some time was removed and the double-hung windows with the segmental arches were installed. The two double-hung windows and segmental arches in the second bay on the south side do not match the location of the exterior arches, indicating that it may have been a dock door at one time. On the fourth bay on the north side there are no windows. A black painted metal fire escape comes from the second floor and drops in front of this bay.
The second story of the building has the same type of metal window design divided into 25 panes. These windows have the same sized operating awning section in the center of the window. The window location, however, in each bay is altered from the ground level. Instead of two windows per bay, the second and third levels have only one window centered in each bay, and do not line up with the ground level windows. All the windows have a concrete lug sill.
The third-story windows are divided into 20 panes, five panes wide but only four panes tall instead of five like the lower two levels, making these windows shorter than the others. The central operating awning-type window on this level is two panes tall rather than the three in the windows below. At the top of the building the surface of the parapet and the pilasters are flush. The bays transition to the parapet face with three rows of brick corbelling.
In addition to the changes along the west face of the building at the ground level, other changes have been made to the building. A water tower was originally located on the roof at the east end of the building but was removed many years ago. Metal mesh grates have been placed over the ground-level double-hung windows to prevent vandalism to the windows and entry into the building. Many of the panes of glass are broken or no longer exist though the sashes remain intact. Some of the sliding dock doors no longer exist and the openings are either boarded up or are left open. The parapet received some damage in the 1980s when a small aircraft clipped a portion of the west section trying to make an emergency landing on the roof of the building. The parapet was rebuilt but painted black and the American Can wording was blacked-in since a portion of it was destroyed with the crash. There is also some damage to the exterior brick due to water damage and freeze/thaw action in areas where downspouts are missing. While the damage is spotty and in some locations severe, some attempts have been made to replace the damaged brick on the south side of the building. These replacement areas are easily identifiable as the color and mortar styles do not match the original.
In 1919a single-story addition was constructed to the east end of the original building and served as part of the factory staging area. The continuous exterior 10-foot-wide dock was fully extended on both sides of the building. This addition is built with concrete posts and roof decking with metal beams tying the posts together. The exterior treatment above the 4-foot-high dock has nine courses of brick in the same American Bond pattern as the original building. A concrete sill separates the brick from the windows above it. Both the south and north sides have four sliding dock doors though they do not line up directly across from each other in the building. On the south side the metal-framed windows are divided into 35 panes. In each panel there is a nine-pane awning window located at the upper portion of the window assembly. The panels are five-panes-wide and nine-panes-tall. The concrete posts divide the window openings into bays. On the south side there are either two- or three-window panels per bay. There is no sequential pattern to the glass panels per bay. There is a mechanical drawbridge located at the third bay from the eastern-most bay of this addition. All the mechanical equipment to operate the bridge has been retained. The bridge dropped from the dock of this building to the raised dock of the boiler building. This assembly is not original but was added some time in the 1930s. The building has a concrete cornice that has a projection in the middle of the cornice band to give it some relief.
On the north side of the building the window panels vary in width and are not uniform as the south is. The panel sizes vary from 35 panes per assembly to 42 panes per assembly. It is because of these varying widths that the doors do not align between the north and south side. A drawbridge assembly is also located on the north side of the building and extends over to the three-story structure to the north. There is a raised monitor assembly in the center of the roof that extends the length of the building. This is designed to provide additional lighting to the building by means of sidelights in this central structure. There are two rows of sidelights on both the north and south side of this raised portion of the roof. At the eastern end of the south side of this building is a brick structure that contained workrooms and acted as a terminus to this addition.
The southeast corner of the site at the comer of 20th and Grant, constructed in 1925, was the second three-story addition to the complex. This section is actually two buildings and was designed to meet an increasing storage need as the facility tried to keep up with the demands of production. The buildings are designed in general to be a copy of the first three-story building built in 1914. The main exterior material is the ocher brick with steelframed windows. The concrete foundation is four feet above the ground. The openings in the walls have segmented arches at the top of each opening and the bay and pilaster patterns are dimensional like the other three-story structure. The east and west ends have the stepped parapets and the parapet top has an interlocking ceramic cap. There is also a stepped parapet in the middle of the length of the building and a double pilaster at this point. The fact that the bricks are not toothed together indicates that the westernmost fourteen bays were a freestanding building at one time. It is not clear when the eastern fifteen bays were constructed but it would have been prior to 1926 since the corridor connection was notched into the structure and not constructed as part of it. No signage exists on these parapets however.
Unlike the other three-story building, the fenestration pattern is the same on all three levels. There is one centrally located window per bay on each floor. The first two levels (the ground floor and 2nd floor) have windows that are divided into twenty panes; four panes across and five panes tall. The dimension of this opening is 4 foot 10 inches by 8 foot 7 inches. Two awning-type fixtures of two panes by two panes are found in each window assembly. The third story reduces the height of the window, much like the original building, to only four panes tall so that the third-story windows have a total of sixteen panes. Every fourth bay on the south and north sides has a sliding wooden dock door rather than a window on the ground level. The opening size of the doors is eight feet by eight feet. A segmented arch is located above each door. Each door is designed with the lower portion having a wood batten design with a cross bracing. The upper portion of the door has two windows. Each window has nine window panes that are three-panes high and three-panes wide. Each dock door has a cantilevered concrete dock that extends out from the building. Similar to the other three-story building, the parapet and pilasters are on the same plane and corbelled brickwork is at the top of each bay to create an overall vertical feeling to a building that is very horizontal.
Modifications have been made to the seven eastern-most bays on the north side of the building that is closest to Grant Avenue along the 20th Street side. These changes appear to have taken place somewhere in the 1940s to adapt to truck deliveries from 20th Street. The first alteration is that the openings have been widened. While the segmented arches are in place, concrete posts have been constructed at each side of the expanded opening. The concrete cantilevered docks have also been removed and replaced with five inch by six-inch wood posts and beams that serve as the dock edge. The doors are rollup doors in these bays. While the first bay on the northeast corner is a window that has not been altered, the second bay going west has had the opening expanded from a window to a dock. The third bay going west has retained its original opening size and only the door style and dock treatment has been altered. The fourth and fifth bays that were windows were widened to be docks and the sixth bay had the most dramatic change as it became a ground-level entrance and the foundation wall was removed in addition to the opening being widened. This opening measures 12-feet wide and 14-feet tall. The seventh bay has had a wider opening created and a concrete platform extended out. A metal awning that is supported by five metal posts covers the six loading docks at this end. The awning was added by 1950 as it appears in the 1950 Sanborn map. The roof beams for the awning were tied into the main building by removing areas of brick, installing the metal rafters and filling in the gaps with concrete where the brick was removed. The eighth bay has had a concrete platform extended out from the building. It is also under the awning. The ninth bay from the eastern corner has a small, cantilevered metal awning constructed over the loading dock doors.
There is severe brick deterioration on the northwest corner of the building caused by water runoff Many of the metal downspouts that were on the side of the building have been removed allowing the water to run down the face of the building. There are also other areas where water has damaged sections of brick. Most of those locations are just below the roofline or on the pilasters where the downspouts should be. Some of the windows on the west side of the building have been filled in with brick used as part of the construction of the 1930 addition to the west.
A second addition to the east was constructed in 1926 to meet the expanding demand of line work. This twenty foot-tall single-story building is unlike the buildings to the west, with more concrete than brick on the exterior treatment which gives the appearance of concrete post-and-beam construction. At the bottom section between the concrete beam and posts are infill areas of brick. The brick has a similar color to the original building. The design gives an appearance of bays but the surface has no depth variation. There are four bays defined by these concrete columns on the east side of the building. The visual changes are made with differing materials. The 15-inch-wide concrete posts are spaced at 18 feet 9 inches apart. The windows run the length of each bay between the columns and have a more horizontal appearance. The black metal frames of the windows divide each window panel into 42 lights or panes. Each window panel is six-panes wide and seven-panes tall with two awning window assemblies occurring in each panel. The awning assemblies are four panes wide and two panes tall. There are three panels of this window module per bay.
The exterior material above the windows is concrete. There is a simple cornice line of concrete at the top of the building. Below the windows and their concrete sills are panels of brick. A concrete beam then acts as the floor line which is elevated above the ground. Below that floor line on the east side are other panels of brick. The north and south sides of the building have a raised concrete dock so there is no area for the brick infill. The central portion of the roof of this building has an extension above the roofline to allow a system of central glass sidelights that allow light into the structure. The sidelights are on both the north and south sides. This roof slopes to the center and drains to the ends of the building. At some time in the 1960s a concrete block addition was made to the southwest end of the building running 66 feet in length and eight-feet in width and used the dock as the floor. The original wall of the building is intact and serves as an interior wall to this addition.
Also during 1926 another extension was made to the south of this building. The building is slightly taller due to a different cornice treatment. The concrete cornice on this southern addition has a central portion that sticks out two or three inches from both the bottom and top portions of the cornice. Another variation is a double column where the addition was made on the Grant Avenue frontage and the bay sizes are wider. The concrete columns on this addition are 21 inches wide and the bays (or space between columns) are 12 feet wide. There are six bays on this addition's eastern frontage and nine on the southern frontage. The window panels on the east face have three panel assemblies per bay. The south face of the building has three panels in the bay in the southeast comer. The rest of the southern face has four window panels per bay which makes the distance between the columns longer than on the east face. Other than these dimensional differences, the materials and their design are the same. This section has no roof-mounted sidelights to light the interior space. Two ground-level loading dock doors exist at the southeast comer of this addition. One opening has been filled in with brick. The existing dock door area on the southeast comer of the building has a dock with dock doors but the transom window area above the dock door has been filled in with brick. In both of these buildings there are windowpanes which are missing glass. Pieces of buffed metal have been inserted where glass once existed.
Another addition was built on the north side of the main 1926 addition creating a connecting hallway between the single-story building and the three-story structure to the north. The corridor extension required a notch to be cut into the concrete foundation of the three-story warehouse to support the lower floor beam. This notch and connection is visible from Grant Avenue and was done in more of an expedient way. The mortar that covered this connection on the foundation wall is beginning to fail and is exposing this connection. There are three bays defined in this extension. The two end bays are docks. The black-painted wooden doors have two sets of nine-paned windows in the upper half of each door. The middle bay has glass windows. There are four panels of windows. The end panels have 28 panes in them with four panes running horizontally and seven vertically. The two middle window panels have 35 panes each. These are seven-panes high and five-panes wide. This middle extension also has missing windowpanes that have left this area open to the elements.
In 2005 rehabilitation for an adaptive reuse of the 1926 section took place. The worked involved maintenance and repair work as well as interior remodeling to change the function of the space from an open area factory line facility to classrooms for a school. The exterior work included replacing both missing glass and single pane glass with double pane glazing. The original metal frames were left in place and painted black prior to installing the glass. The exterior was cleaned with a light chemical water solution and the brick work was repointed in areas that had shown deterioration. This section also received new roofing with a single ply membrane system similar to what had been in place but which had developed leaks in it. Roof mounted HVAC equipment was placed on the roof of the central glass sidelight structure but is placed in the low point of the roof so the end parapets screen the mechanical systems from view.
In order to provide building code-required access for the school, exterior concrete stairways have been installed on the southeast and southwest corners of the building and also two concrete stairways have been installed along the south side of the continuous dock. One small projecting dock on the north exterior face was removed and replaced with a concrete stairway. Since the continuous dock on the south side of the building is now used as an exterior walkway to the building, a black painted metal handrail was added along the edge of the dock space as required by building code for safety. Since access is needed for the new use, five of the warehouse styled rolled and sliding doors have been replaced with a glass door entry system to meet building code ingress and egress requirements. The opening size has not changed but the glass entry door system with sidelights and transoms in a black metal frame was used to convert these openings into functioning entryways for the school. The courtyard created by this U -shaped building once had rail tracks that provide direct access from the train car to the docks. This has now been landscaped to provide a central courtyard for the school. White metal shades attached to the exterior walls of the building have been added around this section in order to provide security to the facility.
Seismic upgrading was essential for any reuse of the building and a shear wall of brick replaced the glass wall on the southwest comer of the building. Other interior spaces had metal cross bracing installed behind the window areas and inside the structure between columns. Interior remodeling focused mainly on creating classrooms by installing stud walls and sheetrock to divide the one large space into 19 rooms using the existing columns to define the room modules. The ceiling remains intact with lighting and ventilation system installed as open pipes attached to the ceiling. The feel and character of the space was retained as the partitions do not extend all the way to the ceiling where the sidelight system exists.
1926 Boiler Building
The Boiler Building, located at the northwest portion of the site, was constructed in 1926 and was designed for various functions. The eastern and western portions of the building are 25-feet tall and the central portion of the building is 17-feet tall. The main exterior materials are concrete and metal-framed glass windows. A small amount of brick is used at the base of the building on the south, west and east sides. A portion of the north wall is concrete. This building has a much more vertical appearance as there is only a subtle break in the window pattern on the south and west sides of the building. The western facade also has a vertical emphasis to it with two concrete columns dividing this facade into three bays. The cornice of the building is also concrete. The west face has a set of double doors located in its northern-most bay. Above the double doors is a concrete sill and then two panels of windows. The first panel has twelve panes, four-panes wide and three-panes high. A metal frame separates this panel from another glass panel above it that is five-panes tall.
The central section has a brick base and a concrete sill. Above the sill are four panels of windows. The lower two panels have 28 panes per panel. Each panel is seven-panes high. The upper panels have twenty panes per panel and are five-panes tall. The third bay has the same brick base and then two panels of windows that have twenty-eight panes per panel. The upper portion is bricked-in and a wing extends out to the brick chimney that is west of this building. The south face of the west section of the building has two bays defined by concrete posts. Each bay has six panels of windows. The lower panels are five-panes wide and seven-panes high. A metal beam separates these panels from the upper panels that are five-panes high and five-panes wide. This gives a very open feeling to this south wall. The smaller, middle section of the south side has two bays defined by concrete posts. Each bay has four window panels of twenty-eight panes per panel. The eastern portion of the south wall has a four-foot-tall concrete foundation then a small brick panel. The windows above the brick area are divided into two bays by a concrete post. There are two panels, one over the other, in each bay. The panels have thirty panes on the lower half and fifteen panes on the upper half. The eastern and northern portion of the building has a four-foot-tall concrete dock that extends out from the building. A metal awning also extends from the building some distance over the dock area. This makes this section of the building seem smaller than the other two sides. There is still a mix of glass, brick, and concrete on these facades in various patterns.
The addition at the northwest corner was constructed in 1930 as an enameling plant. The single-story building is 25-feet tall with a four-foot tall concrete foundation similar to the other buildings. Eight courses of brick laid in an American Bond pattern are above the foundation. From this point on the rest of the building is unique with exterior materials above the brick band of steel frame and post with roof trusses and metal-framed windows. The eaves and soffit are wood that is painted black. The buildings are very transparent with the windows being the main features of the building. The windows are constructed in panels of 35 panes. The panels are five-panes wide and seven-panes tall. Each panel of glass has two awning-type operable areas. The awning section is two-panes high and three-panes wide and is centrally located in the panel by keeping one fixed pane along all four sides of the awning assembly. A bay on the south side is defined by four of these window panels. There is a wider metal post after three panels however. A brick column then defines the bay of four panels and the dock doors. The column is on either side of the dock. There are four docks on the north side of the building that follow the same spacing pattern. On the south side there are three panels to each metal post. There are five sections of these three-panel window assemblies then there are three docks that follow the same spacing as the north side.
Above these panels is a series of translucent transom windows. The mullions of these windows do not match the windowpane or panel lines. The west end of the building does not have any docks though there is one metal man door located near the center of the facade. There are twelve panels of windows on the west end. The central area of the roof has a raised monitor area that has two rows of sidelights that allow light into the interior portion of the building. This structure has many damaged or missing glass panes. In the 1960s a nondescript 19-foot by 16-foot concrete block addition was constructed attached to the northeast comer of the building along the 20th Street frontage. This attachment is a dock extension that provides an opening facing west rather than north or south as the other docks of the building. This addition allowed docking to occur without having the vehicle extend onto 20th Street. The overall building design is very simple and is industrial vernacular, though it is a contrast in style of the solid appearance of the brick buildings that make up the rest of the American Can campus.
Brief History of Ogden
Ogden was founded in 1848 as part of the colonizing efforts of Brigham Young, the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church). Ogden was the central community and seat of Weber County. Smaller agrarian communities developed around Ogden, but it was not until the development of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, with the tracks passing through Ogden just 1,500 feet west of the American Can Company site, that Ogden's regional development began to flourish. Ogden was designated as the junction between the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads. Soon other railroads such as the Denver Rio Grande, the Utah Central, and others would also use Ogden as their switching location so there would be an interconnection of local, regional and national railroad transportation. It was this setting that made Ogden attractive for the location of manufacturing facilities. Ogden grew and for years was Utah's second largest city, but often its main economic center. Rail spurs fingered their way into the downtown area from 20th to 26th Street, creating an easy access to any market desired. Ogden's transportation link became a prime reason for many industries, and especially the American Can Company, to locate here. (Beneath Ben Lomond's Peak, page 423)
Even today, the importance of the railroad in the development of Ogden is symbolized in the Union Station (National Register listed in 1971), its associated museums, and the large land area still devoted to the train yards. The American Can complex is the remaining physical symbol in the City of the canning industry's impact on the shaping of the community.
History of American Can Company of Utah
The American Can Company, a national company headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut, developed can manufacturing facilities nationally in targeted regions to meet the needs of providing cans to the nation's markets. American Can's emphasis was to cut costs in the canning process while, at the same time, capturing the expanding canning market. Facilities were constructed during this same time period in places such as Monterey, California; Portland, Oregon; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Baltimore, Maryland. The American Can Company facility in Ogden was first announced to the community on March 1, 1914. A land deal had been struck between the owners of the land, M. S. Browning, John Farr, Thomas and Eliza Wheelwright, and the American Can Company. (Ogden Examiner, March 1, 1914)
This created a parcel large enough for the complex, and was close enough to rail service so the facility could operate. To help locate the facility at 20th and Lincoln Avenue, the city commissioners also enacted a special franchise ordinance allowing the Oregon Short Line Railroad to build switching tracks to the facility. (Ogden Examiner, March 1, 1914)
In 1914 Utah had 32 canning facilities and 16 of those facilities were located in Weber County. Seventy-five percent of the foodstuffs processed in the canneries in Utah was grown in Weber County. (Ogden Examiner, January 10, 1915)
It was a natural location for such a facility as the American Can Company. The high concentration of canneries in the area, the need for cans for the canning process, and the fact that Ogden was the "Junction City" for the railroads in Utah made economical sense. The location was also next to another major industry, the Becker Brewery, which no longer stands but was located just to the northwest of this facility. The first building of what would be the American Can Company of Utah complex was opened for operation on March 1, 1915. This three-story brick building was estimated to cost $250,000, and was described as the largest manufacturing house in Utah at the time. (Ogden Examiner March 1, 1914)
The canning industry in Utah continued to expand. In 1919 there were 46 canneries in Utah and the American Can Company of Utah facility was supplying cans to all of them. The facility noted it could house 7.5 million cans and that it could easily ship 75,000 cans per railroad car to any location. (Ogden Examiner, December 14, 1919)
The tracks were directly tied to the plant, which made shipping easy. The local newspaper noted in 1919 the Utah canneries were constantly expanding and that the progress of the food-packing industry was placing Utah in the front ranks. The American Can Company facility expanded with the growing industry.
During the summer season the facility employed 250 people. This served as a major employer of the area. Additions were made to the east of the building. In an eleven-year time period from 1919 to 1930 six more additions would be made to the complex. By 1929, the Weber County area was packing 3.5 million cases of fruits and vegetables with an estimated value of nine million dollars. (The History of Weber County, page 279)
The American Can Company of Utah's facility had also increased its capacity with additions to the site to be able to produce 125 million cans a year.
The increased productivity meant that many of the goods shipped from Utah in cans manufactured in Utah were being sent to all the Intermountain states and as far east as Illinois and Minnesota. The American Can Company of Utah facility and the local canneries became a symbol of the success of a way of life that was soon to change. World War II saw large portions of the farmland in the area purchased by the federal government for use as military installations. The American Can Company of Utah facility itself produced metal containers during the war years for the federal government. (The History of Weber County, page 292)
After the war, many local farmers left farming as an occupation and took more reliable and lucrative government jobs, which created a dearth in farm production. This had a direct effect on the local canning industry.
Politically there was another force in action that would spell the end of the American Can Company facility. The federal government, in the late 1950s, considered such an operation as American Can a monopoly. The can factories owned the patents to the machines that produced the cans and sealed the lids. Canneries not only purchased the cans from the company but also rented the machines and men to seal the lids on the cans. When the monopoly was broken up, large cooperative canneries were able to make their own cans. There was no longer a need for an independent facility. The facility shifted to producing soda pop cans but that market ended as the aluminum can became the can of choice for the beverage industry. (American Can Company National Register Nomination by Doug Stephens, April 1984)
The American Can Company of Utah facility closed its doors in Ogden in 1979. The American Can complex is a symbol of a time when agricultural was king in the area. It was a main hub of this industrial activity in the area for 45 years and the cans produce in the facility found their way to homes all over the Intermountain West and even into the Great Plains. The building has been vacant since 1979 except for an occasional use as a storage facility for trucks for Wonder Bread.
The American Can Company of Utah Building Complex is locally significant as a strong symbol indicating Ogden's strategic location in the Intermountain West as an agricultural and shipping center. The canning industry symbolizes the strong agricultural heritage of Weber County and northern Utah, and of the role Ogden played in this business because of its central location and easy access afforded by the railroads. The agricultural nature of the region has now all but disappeared. The reminders of this past are preserved in buildings such as the American Can Company of Utah complex. This facility was the center hub providing cans for all the canning facilities in the area. Few of the canning facilities in the outlying areas remain. None of them are operational and most of them are not even recognizable, as the uses of the structures have changed over time. The American Can complex is located in a very visible area in the central city and since it had only one owner the building has not seen the use and structural changes the other extant canneries have. The site of the American Can Company complex is in an area of Ogden that had been a manufacturing district. The large Becker Brewery facility to the north was demolished in the early 1980s. The Ogden Iron Works to the south was removed in 1990, and other smaller buildings and rail tracks that serviced them have also been removed in redevelopment projects of the past and present. The American Can facility stands as a lone symbol in downtown Ogden of the role the city played in the canning industry.
The canning industry in Utah was once touted as one of the top five canning industries in the nation, and the American Can Company complex supplied cans beyond the limits of northern Utah. This facility provided the cans that would be used to can fruit and vegetables to be used in homes throughout the Intermountain West. The buildings represent the story of the larger national movement in the early 1900s. This was a time of national prosperity with large companies expanding nationwide to provide goods and services to a people who had developed purchasing power. The American Can Company was also important, as a key to enabling America's food producers to provide their product to a nation that was shifting away from a self-sufficient agriculture lifestyle. Ogden was the central point of that activity in the region. The dominance of agriculture as a regional industry has faded in Ogden and the northern region of Utah, but the buildings remain as a symbol of that history.
Architecturally, the facilities are not unusual in the style of construction for this era. However, the American Can Complex is one of the last remaining buildings of its type built during the 1920s in the community. There is still a candy manufacturing plant (Shupe Williams Building at 26th and Wall Avenue) and a clothing and warehouse facility (Scowcroft Warehouse at 23rd and Wall Avenue), but these have different styles and are not part of the canning history of the region. There are elements that are important, such as the continuity of a common theme implemented in the various building phases. The mass of the buildings, and the fact that some of the facilities are three stories in height, certainly make the complex a visual landmark in the community that helps to call attention to its architecture. The segmented arched window lines in the brick buildings and the extensive use of glass, even in the monitor, to light all portions of the building is unique since there are no other buildings remaining in Ogden that have such large expanses of glazing. Overall, the American Can Company of Utah Building Complex is an architecturally dominating presence in the historical manufacturing section of Ogden and retains its historical integrity as a contributing historic resource in Ogden City.
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"Utah Canneries Constantly Expanding." The Ogden Examiner. December 14, 1919
"American Can Company of Utah has Become Established as a Great Industry of Ogden." The Ogden Examiner. December 14, 1919
Roberts, Richard C. and Richard W. Sadler. A History of Weber County. Salt Lake City, UT; Utah State Historical Society, and Weber County Commission, 1997
Stephens, Doug R.. Draft National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form for American Can. April 1984. Copy available at the Utah State Historic Preservation Office.