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From Billfold Empire to Affordable Palace

Amity Leather Products Factory, West Bend, Wisconsin

Factory, before rehabilitation
Factory, before rehabilitation

In 1915, West Bend native Robert H. Rolfs rented a single room above a store on Main Street and, with one employee, started making leather billfolds. Just nine years later, Rolfs employed 178 people, and had completed the first portion of his new Amity Leather Products Company Factory. The central three-story block and the magnificent Art Deco influenced tower were added in 1929, and another wing in 1933. Amity Leather was soon the world's largest manufacturer of billfolds.


Amity Apartments

Production continued at the factory until 1996, when manufacturing was moved overseas. In 2001, Stone House Development recognized that the architecturally distinctive factory building might be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and could prove a likely candidate for conversion to apartments. The firm specializes in combining the use of tax incentives for historic preservation and affordable housing to create attractive residential projects. Its long narrow multistory form, which optimized light and ventilation on the factory floor, also made the building well suited for its new use as apartments.


Interior, before conversion to apartments

The developer converted the property to thirty-six units and included interior parking for as many cars. The conversion required few exterior changes to the building, which was always well maintained over the years. One change was the replacement of steel factory sash windows, which had been previously altered by the addition of aluminum vents.


Typical Apartment

 The new interior reflects the industrial historic character of the building by using the exposed steel and timber ceiling structure as a primary design feature.

For more information on the Amity Leather Building, see its National Register summary.


 

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