As this decade comes to a close, we look back on the history of Columbus — how our great city has grown, how it has changed, and the history that has shaped the Capital City throughout the years.
As for us here at Lykens Companies, one of our proudest accomplishments of the decade has certainly been acquiring and refurbishing the iconic Wonder Bread Factory, which has stood proudly in Italian Village for over 100 years. What used to be a bustling place of production — with the scents of freshly-baked bread wafting through the air and the constant thrum of machinery, this century-old bread factory has transformed into one of the most unique and iconic apartment buildings in Columbus.
Italianate Architecture and a Melting Pot of Immigrants at the Turn of the Century
According to Ohio History Connection, Italian Village at the turn of the century was a melting pot of Italian, Irish, and African immigrants who worked, lived, shopped, and worshipped in this early suburb of Columbus. This neighborhood was defined by its industrial warehouses, spotted with Italian Catholic churches, a few retail buildings, and a mix of single- and multi-family residential properties.
Architecturally, the styles of Italian Village are different from its neighboring community Victorian Village. Most of the buildings in Italian Village were built in the Italianate and Queen Anne style, using masonry (brick, block, and stone), and wood. These architectural styles reigned throughout the United States during this time period, and were not unique to Columbus. Nonetheless, we should be proud that these historic buildings still stand today.
Italian Village: An Industrious Neighborhood that Needed a Way to Feed its Workers
At the turn of the century (more specifically, between 1890 and 1930), many residents of Italian Village worked for the Clark Grave Vault/Clark Auto Equipment Company, the Smith Brothers Hardware Company, Berry Bolt Works, the Radio Cab Company, and the Columbus Burlap Bag Company. But the largest employer in Italian Village at the time was the Jeffery Mining Company, which employed 2,500 people at its peak. Thousands and thousands of workers reported to work every day to help build coal mining machinery, and Jeffery Mining Company needed a way to feed all those employees, hard at work.
That’s why, in 1916, they built a bread factory across the street. All those Jeffery Mining employees were working up large appetites, and the company needed a way to keep everyone going.
This bakery site produced baked goods for the Jeffery Mining Company and its company cafeteria. It also provided baked goods for the company’s cooperative employee store. At its peak, the bread factory produced up to 5,000 loaves per day, according to The Ohio History Connection.
A Century of Change for Columbus’ Bread Factory
Throughout the years, this bread factory changed names — and owners — many times. In 1920, it was known as “The Columbus Bread Company”, and just three years later it changed hands to the “Holland Bread Company”. In 1929, it became the “Ward Brothers Company”, and finally, in 1934, Wonder Bakeries were handed the keys, which is when this building first became home to the Wonder Bread name we know and love today.
At Wonder Bread’s peak, this facility churned out no fewer than several thousand loaves per minute! This huge volume of bread was then quickly shipped across the United States.
In 2009, the Wonder Bread Factory stopped baking. Wonder Bread’s parent company, Interstate Bakeries Corporation, closed the Columbus factory, along with a sister factory in Missouri, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
During this time, the American bread industry saw a drop in bread purchases, as Americans became more health conscious (and afraid of carbs.) Since the Columbus factory didn’t have the ability to bake Wonder Bread’s new all-natural bread line, they had no choice but to close their doors.
This building was a bread factory for over a hundred years until a stand still in 1999, until the Lykens Company bought it in 2009, after Wonder Bakeries decided to vacate the premises. (In 2009, America wasn’t sure how we felt about bread anymore, and Wonder Bakeries couldn’t justify keeping their Columbus factory open.)
Wonderland: What would have been a community arts space
When our very own Kevin Lykens purchased this unique property in 2009, he had a dream. He, along with a group of innovative entrepreneurs, had plans to turn the old Wonder Bread Factory into a multi-use arts center.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, this group of local movers and shakers dreamed of converting the old bread factory into artist studios, shared office spaces, band rehearsal and recording facilities, venue and performance spaces, and galleries, all under one roof. It would be called “Wonderland”, and it would be an invaluable resource for local artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs to achieve success and establish Columbus as a true art city.
But unfortunately, the dream of Wonderland was not meant to be. The team faced multiple roadblocks from the Internal Revenue Service that made leasing terms difficult, so Kevin Lykens decided to instead turn the historic bread factory into a unique, luxury living space for Columbus residents who wanted to live in the heart of Ohio’s capital city.
The Wonder Bread Lofts Today — Keeping the Icon Alive
Today, the Wonder Bread Factory is now The Wonder Bread Lofts. The Wonder Bread sign still stands as a reminder of this building’s fascinating past, and its history as the place that once kept Columbus bellies full and the air smelling sweetly of baked goods.
Unlike any other apartment in Columbus, the phenomenal Wonder Bread Lofts are where personality meets luxury, and where elegance meets urban appeal. The spacious lofts have very high ceilings, exposed brick, and granite countertops, including modern amenities like washers and dryers in every unit.
If you’re a resident of Wonder Bread Lofts, perhaps you can sit quietly and imagine how this building must have been like 100 years ago, when factory workers toiled for hours behind large machinery, the sweet smell of freshly-baked bread wafting through the air.