FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — It may not look like an architectural treasure, but the International Harvester Engineering Building is an iconic example of industrial design and it’s changed very little over its 70 years.
This week, it landed on Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered historic places.
The 300,000-square-foot brick structure circa 1951 has a unique wood-block floor that was easier on the legs of the employees than a typical concrete slab and it was designed by Albert Kahn, a prolific industrial designer in the U.S., according to Paul Hayden, director of the northeast field office for Indiana Landmarks.
Along with an architectural pedigree, the building has a rich history and cultural significance. Many men and women in Fort Wayne worked at this plant and have very fond memories, Hayden noted.
“About three years ago, they started Harvester Homecoming. Literally, thousands of people would show up from all over the Midwest, having worked there or having owned a truck, trailer, tractor, or Scout,” Hayden said.
The organization felt strongly enough to take steps to protect the building from an “actual threat,” he said.
“Right next to this building was a test track that dated back to the 1920s. An owner took a front-end loader and tore it down,” Hayden said.
That’s something that’s still fresh in the mind of Ryan Duvall, one of the founders of Harvester Homecoming who made several attempts to save the test track.
When Indiana Landmarks contacted him about the possibility of the building landing on the endangered list, he welcomed officials to come and see it for themselves.
“As we learned with the test track, you can’t act too soon to save a piece of history,” Duvall said.
The current owner is Allen County and the county commissioners have designated the site as the location for a new Allen County Jail.
But the “county is not the reason it’s being threatened,” Hayden said. “The museum that exists today is trying to partner with the county. We’re just sort of trying to maintain friendly relations to get some sort of a resolution on this building.”
Hayden reiterated the importance of the building and its architect.
“It’s an important original design by Mr. Kahn, totally unaltered from the original design from 70 years ago. For that reason it was an important building for Fort Wayne, Hayden said.
Looking down from the sky, the building layout mimics the IH logo, but it’s not obvious walking through the facility.
“The Center was the largest engineering facility in North America dedicated exclusively to design, development, validation, integration and testing of light, medium, heavy and severe service trucks, buses, Scouts and their components,” according to a Harvester Homecoming brochure. Built in 1951, the engineering complex covering 185 acres closed in 2012.
Creager Smith, planner for the city’s Historic Preservation and Culture Commission, spoke of the architect’s relevance.
Albert Kahn & Associates was a “large and significant firm based in the Detroit area that specialized in designing factories, engineering facilities and related structures,” Smith said. Kahn died prior to the construction of the engineering facility.
It was another architect, Louis Kahn, who designed the Arts United Center. Louis Kahn was another world-renowned architect.
Other landmarks that appeared on the Most Endangered List include ”a threatened Victorian neighborhood; historic fraternal lodges; a significant Queen Anne home; a former movie palace; an Art Deco skyscraper; a commercial block that embodies Indiana’s limestone legacy; a manufacturing mogul’s neglected mansion; a long-vacant county home; and a church designed by a trailblazing Black architect,” the Indiana Landmarks website states.
Connie Haas-Zuber, executive director of ARCH, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving historical buildings in Fort Wayne, said the fraternal lodges category includes The Freemasons Hall at 216 E. Washington Blvd. ARCH supports their efforts to repair and maintain the century-old building, important to Fort Wayne, and apparently, throughout the state.