Manhattanville’s former Studebaker automobile factory breathes new life as Columbia University’s Human Resources building.
If you’ve ever worked for Columbia University, you probably hate this square, brown building with a weird tower on it. It’s the Human Resources building and everyone on Columbia’s payroll eventually has to make the trek out to 615 W. 131st street to file their tax forms and the like. Though the building’s function today is not very exciting, the history behind it is pretty surprising.
The only clue to the administrative building’s automotive past is the small Studebaker logo in the top right hand corner of the structure; Columbia University plans to keep the logo for historical value. Photo courtesy of Daniel Strohl.
With only a small logo to hint at the building’s past, Columbia’s “Studebaker” building is just that–a former automobile factory. Built in 1923 by the Studebaker automobile company, the facility originally served as a finishing factory and distribution center for the highly coveted and expensive luxury vehicles that made Studebaker a household name, like the Big Six, Light Six, and Special Six (which later became known as the President, Dictator, and Commander, respectively). In its heyday, the factory would have been filled with these vehicles and their parts, along with dealers and mechanics in training.
The facility would have produced some of Studebaker’s most famous luxury cars, like the Big Six touring car, advertised here.
Of course, like many businesses, the Studebaker Corporation suffered severe losses in the stock market crash of 1929, forcing them to stop production and sell the factory to the Borden Milk Company in 1937 for use as a milk processing plant. Later, the building would come to be used as a warehouse for the American Museum of Natural History, as a small manufacturing plant for the Madame Alexander Doll Company, and finally, in the 1980s, as its current form–office space for Columbia University.
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