DES MOINES – It was home to two manufacturing companies that played big roles in helping the United States and its allies win two world wars. Today, it is one of Iowa's most treasured historic buildings.
The Albertson and Company/Rocklin Manufacturing Company building in Sioux City has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Its historic significance is tied to its association with the local manufacturing industry and the role it played during World War I and World War II.
"We're pleased this building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, and we commend all the stakeholders who worked so hard on this successful nomination," State Historian Laura Sadowsky said. "This recognition marks an important milestone for Sioux City as it continues to preserve the legacy of its past for future generations of Iowans to enjoy."
Built in 1912 at 110 S. Jennings St. in Sioux City, the building originally housed the Automatic Valve Seating Machinery Company until 1914 when it reorganized and became the Sioux City Machine and Tool Company, producing spark plugs and tire valves.
Four months later, the company failed and its shop foreman, Swedish-born Frans Oscar Albertson (1882-1958), founded Albertson & Company, which took over the manufacturing plant. When World War I broke out, he secured a four-month Canadian wartime contract to supply 6,000 piston rings and repair tools for munition plants.
While Albertson never owned the building, his company occupied it until 1920 when it moved into a new and larger two-story plant at Floyd and 31st streets. That year, the company produced 11 different tools and generated more than $500,000 in sales, according to the building's National Register nomination form.
Albertson went on to become the world's largest producer of portable electronic and air tools. Known as Sioux Tools Inc., a division of Snap-On Tools as of 1993, it remained in Iowa until 2001 when it relocated to North Carolina.
Meanwhile, the original building underwent numerous owners and uses from 1921 to 1942 when the Rocklin Manufacturing Company took it over.
Originally, the Rocklin family was in the flower business and claimed to have the largest greenhouse complex west of the Mississippi River during World War I. But Isadore J. "Rocky" Rocklin (1908-1993), son of floral partner Michael E. Rocklin (1881-1976), wasn't destined for the floral trade.
The younger Rocklin spent his formative years working with radios and graduated from the University of Iowa in 1930 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He spent several years working in numerous industries – radio and communications, air conditioning and furnace sales – gathering a broad range of skills that led to future success with his own company.
In 1941, Rocklin's company was located at 2700 Hawkeye Drive and a year later, it moved into the former Albertson building. The company's products included water-level regulators for stock tanks, pump jacks, corn pickers, hydraulic pumps and tractor-powered saws and mowers that improved efficiency and safety on the farm.
When World War II began, Rocklin responded by manufacturing equipment for Chrysler Corporation, International Harvester Company and Allis Chalmers Company while supplying the Chicago Ordnance District, the Detroit Arsenal and the Tank Automotive Center in Detroit with products. Rocklin would eventually play a key role in providing spring and shock mounts for the national missile defense system, the nomination form said.
In 1944, the company received the rare and coveted Ordnance Corps flag from the U.S. Army for outstanding contributions in the field of ordnance production. Iowa Gov. Bourke B. Hickenlooper and Sioux City Mayor Forrest Olson attended the presentation ceremony and watched Rocklin present 400 of his employees with certificates and ordnance pins at the Hotel Martin ballroom.
"The company was one out of 17 firms selected to take on a 'special ordnance assignment' out of 2,200 applicants," the nomination form said. "Rocklin was one of 13 war production firms that received the Ordnance banner in recognition of its distinguished and meritorious production record."
After the war, Rocklin moved into new structures, leaving the two-story brick building mostly abandoned and increasingly derelict over the next 50 years.
By 2017, however, the company had outgrown its post-World War II space and looked to its original 8,000-square-foot building to house a product showroom, conference room with video-conferencing technology and more.
The project used historic preservation tax credits and included historically accurate windows, exposed beams, columns and flooring that recaptured the building's original late 19th and 20th century architecture while retaining a two-story non-historic exterior mural (2005) that honors the company's past.
"(The) feeling of association is rooted in the confidence that the historic personages associated with this building could readily locate and identify it today," the nomination form said. "The descendants of I. J. Rocklin further attest to this feeling of association by virtue of their interest in preserving and continuing to share this building's and their family's histories."
The State Historic Preservation Office oversees the National Register of Historic Places program in Iowa in conjunction with the National Park Service. The State Historic Preservation Office is part of the State Historical Society of Iowa, a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.
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The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs and its three divisions – the Iowa Arts Council, Produce Iowa - State Office of Media Production and the State Historical Society of Iowa – empower Iowa to build and sustain culturally vibrant communities by connecting Iowans to the people, places and points of pride that define our state. The department’s work enables Iowa to be recognized as a state that fosters creativity and serves as a catalyst for innovation where the stories of Iowa are preserved and communicated to connect past, present and future generations.