The Modern World, 1914

The south Bronx building above is a milk processing factory, more specifically the “Sheffield Farms Milk Plant” at Webster Avenue and 166th Street. The building has a reinforced-concrete frame – still fairly new technology at the time – and curtain walls of terra-cotta and brick.

The most interesting thing about it is the degree to which it turned milk production into an industrial process:

The milk was received at the ground floor in ten gallon cans. The cans were transported on the freight elevator to the fourth and fifth floors where they were dumped and the milk was stored until it was ready for pasteurization.

The milk then traveled through pipes from the tanks to the clarifiers at the top level of the milk room (4th floor). From there the milk descended by gravity down five levels of pasteurizing equipment to the milk bottling room on the first floor. The practice of locating the equipment on different levels was instituted in order to avoid the use of milk pumps. Some practitioners in the dairy industry found it objectionable and less hygienic to utilize pumps in the process. Once the milk was bottled, it was transported to an adjacent milk-storage room. This was a well-insulated cold-storage room in which the milk was kept cold until it was ready for delivery.

Artificial ice was manufactured on the third floor, cracked and dropped down to the loading dock where it was used to pack the cold bottles of freshly pasteurized milk. The milk then left on wagons or trucks through the same archways it had entered.

The ten-gallon cans at the start of the process came from dairy farms and represent the last old-fashioned part of the process. The spatial complexity of the building reflects the complexity of the processing taking place.

The statement of significance in the HAER report includes this:

The Sheffield Farms Milk Plant, built in 1914, was one of only two Class I gravity milk plants in the country. As a Class 1 gravity milk plant, it was one of the most expensive and elaborate milk plants built with one of the largest processing capacities (if not the largest).

That description, taken in part from the 1914 rationale for the plant, reeks of Taylorism and operations management, neither of which I would immediately associate with milk. But at least the terra cotta face included cow heads and milk bottles:

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