Showers Brothers Factory
The Showers Brothers Furniture Factory housed the Showers Brothers Furniture business for nearly 70 years. At one time a sprawling complex that handled furniture production "from the tree to the trade", much of it was destroyed in a fire. Since the furniture company went out of business, parts of the factory have been repurposed for other business, educational and government use.
1884-1955: Furniture Production
Showers Brothers Furniture was forced to move from its original production facility on Grant Street after a fire swept through the street in 1884. The furniture shop had become so important to the Bloomington economy that the city financed almost half the cost of a new factory on Morton Street.
After building the new Showers Brothers Building on Morton Street in 1913, Showers Brothers Furniture grew at a a rapid pace. They were one of the first Bloomington businesses to switch from steam to electricity, and invented (and named) the process of laminating. The new factory produced everything from raw materials, rather then relying on suppliers. Their slogan was "From the Tree to the Trade." Although they averaged about 800 employees, their peak employment during the 1920s was 1,200 workers, making them the largest employer in Bloomington at the time. Also in 1913 Showers Brothers announced plans to build an addition to the City of Bloomington named Showers Heights in order to provide housing for employees. The addition was never built.
When the US census was conducted in 1910, the US government pinpointed the exact location where there was an equal number of people living north, south east and west at the front door of the Showers Brothers Building. The company capitalized on this free publicity and declared themselves to be the center of the universe. They installed a marker at the exact location. When the Showers Brothers Building closed down in 1955, the city moved the marker to the Monroe County Courthouse lawn.
1958-1994: Indiana University Storage
The complex sat dormant for several years until Indiana University purchased it in 1958. It was used primarily for storage of various University archives. The kiln buildings housed small amounts of chemical and low-level radioactive waste from IU's Chemistry Building and Physical Plant. Today, Indiana University Press utilizes the old Showers administration building for its office on the northwest corner of 10th and Morton streets.
1994-present: The Miracle on Morton Street
In mid-1989, Indiana University began to talk about creating a research park at their storage facility, known as "Factory Building 1". Originally envisioned as a joint venture between Indiana University, the city of Bloomington, and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, IU trustees passed a resolution on December 9th, 1989 to begin taking bids to renovate 70,000 feet of the total 204,000 feet of the storage space. IU appointed Bob Barker to lead the project.
Concurrent with those discussions, the city of Bloomington was looking to relocate City Hall from its former location at the corner of 4th and Walnut streets. (This eventual move made space for the current Waldron Arts Center.) At the time, the two leading locations being debated were sites over the Regester Parking Garage at the corner of 7th Street and College Avenue and the old Johnson Creamery. However, in early April 1990, city officials approached IU about the possibility of leasing a part of the building for the new city hall sites. Without having a firm decision on the site yet, the Bloomington City Council approved a resolution on May 2nd, 1990 to form a non-profit holding corporation to issue bonds that would fund the construction of the new location. The bonds would be funded out of the County Option Income Tax (COIT). (Indiana state law requires that most capital construction costs be funded through a city-established building corporation. The Indiana Constitution includes a prohibition on using general obligation funds for capital construction projects.)
By late 1990, the City of Bloomington had decided upon the Showers Building as its future City Hall location. Indiana University agreed to sell the building to the Bloomington Advancement Corporation (BAC) for $2.5 million. BAC would serve as the general contractor to renovate the building. They would then lease 70,000 square feet back to Indiana University for their research park and 65,000 square feet to the city of Bloomington. The remaining 65,000 square feet would be leased out to various businesses by CFC, Inc. The total cost of the project was estimated at $15 million, with the city's share estimated at $5.68 million. The city council approved the funding by unanimous vote on February 20th, 1991. The IU trustees approved the sale of the building to the BAC on May 3rd, 1991.
By the end of May, 1992, the consortium chose local firm Odle, McGuire & Shook as the architect of the new project. In late June of 1993, the old grain towers were demolished to make room for a nearby parking lot for the complex. This lot would serve as location of the Bloomington Farmer's Market in future years. The Johnson Creamery tower remained as a historical site. Though early estimates placed the project completion date in early 1994, renovation construction didn't begin until mid 1994. The cost of the project had also grown from $15 million to $28 million. Indianapolis firm E.A. Wilhelm Construction Company was chosen as the general contractor. It was around this time that local residents started calling the project "The Miracle on Morton Street".
Texas artist Brad Goldberg was commissioned to create the limestone fountain spilling bowl on the east side of the City Hall portion of the building. The parking lot was given covered stalls when it was decided to move the Bloomington Farmers Market to the location.
The renovated building was officially opened on November 3rd, 1995. In 1998, Indiana University, who still owned the 25,000 square foot building that was used as the furniture showroom in the 1920s, sold the "Sample" building to Hirons & Co.. Hirons estimated the renovation costs at $3 million.