Loop Back: From Auto Warehouse To Freezer Factory
As the horse-drawn carriage era was ending and motor car sales were surging, one ambitious dealer/distributor established an early substantial lead over the competition.
Harry Pence, owner of the Pence Automobile Company, could hardly keep up with demand in 1912—even with an 8-story warehouse and showroom for his Buicks at 8th and Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis.
So in 1913, the company built another huge new warehouse about a mile away at 801 North Washington—big enough to hold “not less than 1,500 Buicks” according to a 1914 ad.
By 1915, Pence Automobile controlled dozens of dealerships throughout the Upper Midwest and accounted for 29% of all Buick sales everywhere. News accounts also proclaimed that it was the largest auto business in the world at the time. It was ultimately acquired by General Motors in 1930.
Through the 1930s, the warehouse at 801 North Washington continued to be a bustling distribution center not only for Buicks but Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles as well.
But in the early 1940s, the building became a manufacturing facility for another modern new invention: the home freezer.
Schaefer, Inc. set up assembly lines inside the building, manufacturing steel freezer cabinets with enamel exteriors destined to be shipped around the world.
They went by the brand name, Pak-A-Way, promoting the novel idea that homemakers could pack away fresh foods now and then serve them year-round.
In 1947, a 4-alarm fire gutted the upper floor of the building where the coolers, freezers and ice cream machines were assembled.
Schaefer was acquired by Studebaker in 1962 and continued to operate in the Washington Avenue plant until at least 1975 when the company was sold to Sunbeam.
The building was converted to residential units, now known as 801 Washington Lofts, in 2001.
You’ll find much more neighborhood history throughout our Historic North Loop section.
By Mike Binkley, North Loop volunteer