Sometimes it’s easy to overlook something significant, and that’s the case with this month’s vintage structure, the Selle Generator Works.
Before I started working from home, I’d drive by it every day on my way to work, occasionally glancing at the old brick factory at the south end of downtown, between Broadway and High Streets.
Though it is built primarily of brick, the factory has a timber frame that dates from 1888, when it opened as the Selle Gear Company. Ferdinand Selle (pronounced “sell-ee”) emigrated from Germany in 1852 and moved to Akron after living in Detroit. Arriving in the midst of the city’s pre-rubber industrial boom, he had obtained many patents, and this resulted in a number of investors coming forward to support a manufacturing effort.
Initially, the company produced specialized hardware for horse-drawn carriages, delivery wagons and omnibuses. The company’s platform truss gears and spring suspensions were widely used, resulting in an expansion of the operation and the addition of boiler rooms, a forging room and shipping docks.
Though it was once a much larger complex, the main portion of the factory appears essentially as it did during its early years, with the compact, multi-story brick manufacturing structure and its tall companion chimney standing proud. The building is not ornate, but does feature construction details typical of the mid-to-late 19th century, like an arched window in an east-facing gable, tall and narrow plate glass windows to let in plenty of light, and modest brick step-detailing on the gable ends. As it stands, it is one of the very few remaining examples of 19th century Akron industrial architecture.
Selle’s company was successful enough to be purchased by another prosperous Akron family, the Howers, in 1903, and was renamed the Akron-Selle Company. As it evolved, the company began to serve the needs of the growing auto industry and got into sheet metal stamping right before World War I. This eventually grew into the production of truck bodies, and as time went on, various parts for cars, trucks, airplanes and even lighter-than-air craft.
By World War II, the Akron-Selle Company was producing parts for the war effort, including military ordinance. A major tornado that hit Akron in 1943 caused some significant damage to parts of the complex, but it was repaired and production for the war effort was resumed as quickly as possible.
By the early 1950s the company had settled into producing metal stampings for the burgeoning auto industry. This carried them through to 1998, when the original Selle factory was put up for sale. The company moved to a new location on Bartges Street, where it operated until it closed for good in 2001.
The old factory building remained for sale for five years until it was finally purchased by the Ohio Brewing Company in 2003, which operated there for some time before moving the brewery to a new location.
Since then, the historic Selle factory building has seen significant restorations funded by private investors and federal historic tax credits, with over 45,000 square feet built out and leased. Currently known as the Selle Generator Works, it remains not only an important architectural landmark but an excellent example of how old structures can be adapted for contemporary uses.