New use sought for landmark Wright building
By MARGARET FOSMOE South Bend Tribune October 13, 2013 8:42PM
The Kingsbury Employment Office still sits on the grounds of the old Kingsbury Munitions plant in Kinsford Heights, Ind. The structure was designed by John Lloyd Wright, son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Fern Eddy Schultz, 84, is the LaPorte County historian and actually worked at the Kingsbury plant from 1949 until 1960. (AP Phoho/South Bend Tribune, Greg Swiercz)
Updated: November 15, 2013 6:03AM
KINGSBURY — The one-story building, with its tall ventilation towers, low eaves and corner windows, bears the unmistakable look of a Wright building.
In this case, it’s John Lloyd Wright, son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
“It’s a remarkable design,” Todd Zeiger, director of the northern regional office of Indiana Landmarks Inc., said of the Industrial Prairie-style building in this LaPorte County community. “You can certainly see the influence of his father on his work.”
A new use is being sought for the building, known as the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant Employment Office. It was built in 1940 or 1941 as an office building for the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant, a massive complex that produced ammunition during World War II.
Long vacant, the building this year was added to the Indiana Landmarks list of the state’s top 10 most endangered landmarks. The agency is seeking a new owner and a new use for the distinctive structure.
The Kingsbury Ordnance Plant was the largest employer in LaPorte County during World War II. About 20,000 people worked there, mostly women, LaPorte County historian Fern Eddy Schultz, 84, told the South Bend Tribune. She worked in the building from 1949 to 1960.
The site was considered far enough inland to escape an enemy attack, but well placed for shipping purposes. If the work resulted in an accidental explosion, the sparsely populated surrounding region would minimize the number of casualties. To accommodate workers, the federal government provided nearby dormitories, trailers and prefabricated homes.
“People came from all over to work here,” Schultz said. The facility was closed for a while after the war, then put back to use making ammunition for the Korean War, then closed in 1960, she said.
The employment office was used by the National Guard for a while, but has sat unused for at least 20 years. “I’d like to see somebody do something with it,” Schultz said.
Sunlight floods in the large windows in most areas of the building, which is wood frame on a concrete foundation.
Pat and Randy Sebert, of Union Mills, bought the former employment office a decade ago from the federal government. They planned to develop it for a new use, such as an industrial strip mall or for senior housing.
That hasn’t happened, though, and the couple now is seeking to sell it. The building sits on nine acres of land.
Indiana Landmarks wants to find a buyer and help seek funding to renovate the historic structure. The interior has hardwood floors and most of the office partitions have been removed, creating a large open space.
“It’s fine structurally and ready for renovation,” Zeiger said.
Much of the former ordnance plant land is slated for development as a long-planned intermodal facility known as INland Logistics Port, although that development hit some snags over the summer. LaPorte County leaders are working with the firms involved to get the development moving forward again.
The former employment office stands near the entrance to that development.
John Lloyd Wright was a recognized architect himself. He lived in Long Beach, Ind., from 1923 to 1946 and designed numerous houses and other buildings in the area.
As private home commissions dwindled during the Great Depression, John Lloyd Wright designed public buildings for the Works Progress Administration. Shortly before World War II, he was hired to design the employment office at the new Kingsbury Ordnance Plant, a huge ammunition factory.
The younger Wright, who died in 1972, had a contentious relationship with his famous archiect father. He worked alongside his father for a while, but they also had periods of estrangement.
The younger Wright also designed toys, including one invention in 1916 that became famous and still is produced today: Lincoln Logs.
“He made some cool stuff. He’s kind of overlooked because of his dad,” Zeiger said.