Structure Type: built works - industrial buildings - factories

Designers: [unspecified]

Dates: constructed 1904-1905

5 stories, total floor area: 150,000 sq. ft.

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65 Atlantic Street
SODO, Seattle, WA 98134-1220

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Building History

Mississippi-born industrialist Judson Moss Bemis (1833-1921) founded the Bemis Bag Company in 1858 in Saint Louis, MO. His factory employed new mechanical sewing machines to produce textile bags, rather than relying on the standard, but less-efficient, hand-sewing techniques. To overcome suspicions that his machine-sewn bags would not hold their contents, Bemis guaranteed each bag, thereby enhancing consumer confidence. The Union Army boosted the company's growth when it ordered large numbers of military haversacks and burlap grain storage bags during the Civil War. The firm later became a leading producer of paper bags, and grew into a very large packaging company, whose headquarters shifted to Boston during the 1870s; As grain milling became centered in Minneapolis during the last quarter of the 19th century, Bemis opened a Minneapolis factory in 1881; other branches opened in the West soon thereafter, in Omaha (1887).

By 1900, Bemis owned six manufacturing plants in MO, MN, NB, LA, WI, and CA, as well as an interest in an Indianapolis cotton bleaching factory. Bemis became vertically integrated during the 19th century, producing its own cotton and operating its own bleaching plants by 1896. The Bemis Company's own timeline stated: "By operating bag factories, cotton mills, and the bleachery, the Bemis brothers oversaw the full life span of their products, from cotton plant to finished bag." Seeing the need for a Northwest regional manufacturing center, construction of the Seattle factory occurred in 1904-1905. Bemis built five other production facilities across the US and Canada during the 1900-1910 period in Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas and Manitoba. The company branched out into making paper bags and packaging in 1913. In 1921, the firm' s Seattle plant made burlap, cotton and duck bags. (See Seattle, Washington, City Directory, 1921, p. 109.)

Textile bag production ended in 1979, at which time paper bag manufacture increased. In 1993, production ceased at the outmoded Seattle plant. Seattle manufacturing operations were shifted to the Bemis location in Vancouver, WA, one of 28 plants around the world. The Bemis Brothers Bag Company Seattle factory was built in several stages. The original load-bearing masonry building was put up in 1904-1905, and was designed by Bemis's own in-house engineers. Another section needed to boost production was completed by 1917. Thomas Scruggs, a Saint Louis-based designer, was given credit for the next addition. A final reinforced concrete section replaced the antiquated 1904-1905 original building in 1949-1950.


Portions of the top floor wall of the Bemis Bag Building's south wall toppled in the Earthquake of 1949. This was the portion of the less-seismically stout 1905 building, not the more robust 1917 wing. The later addition had no damage in the 7.1 temblor. After this shock, the company demolished the earlier brick section and replaced it with a stout reinforced concrete structure. After the Bemis Bag Company left the facility in 1993-1994, new owners renovated and re-purposed the building. "Somerset Properties, lead [sic] by Seattle artist David Huchthausen, purchased the Bemis Building in 1994. Huchthausen, a former University Professor with an extensive background in architecture designed a mixed-use redevelopment incorporating light manufacturing, warehouse and offices with 30 residential artists lofts. Interior demolition produced over 47 tons of debris, from the top two floors alone. Crews refinished 25,000 square feet of maple flooring producing 3 tons of sawdust. The project included over a mile of new interior walls creating studios from 1500 to 3000 square feet. Overhead beams in the 12-to 17 foot ceilings remain exposed, retaining the industrial feel of the spaces. Windows were replaced with thermopane incorporating interior grids to match the look of the original factory windows, maintaining the historic integrity of the structure." (See "Bemis Building Photos,"Accessed 11/07/2013.)

PCAD id: 13973