Historic Battery Building

History & Construction


The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City proposal includes renovating and incorporating the historic building located at 323 Water Street in downtown Sioux City. This Romanesque structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 for its status as an excellent reminder of the days when Sioux City served as a wholesale jobbing center for northwest Iowa. Historical significance also results from the building’s associations with the St. Louis-based Simmons Hardware Company, a prime example of the nineteenth-century trend toward large interstate corporations as the business model for American commerce. The building, long appreciated as a local landmark because of its prominent clock tower and Romanesque styling, also has significance as an intact and well-preserved example of the warehouse style influenced by the Marshal Field Wholesale Store in Chicago, Illinois (1885 – 1887, H.H. Richardson, architect).


The Simmons Hardware Company, creator of the “Keen Kutter” brand of tools, constructed the building. The Simmons Hardware Company was dissolved in April 1936, certainly a casualty of the Great Depression. Over the years, the Simmons building was occupied by other companies and acquired several other common names. In 1939, Kollman-Warner Company, which dealt in wholesale seeds, occupied the structure for three years. From 1944 to 1956, the Sioux City Battery Company produced Ray-O-Vac batteries in the basement and first two floors of the leased warehouse building, which became locally known as the “Battery Building.” The Bomgaars Company is its most recent owner and occupant.


Construction of the 131,000 square-foot building took place from 1905 to 1906. Now straightened and channeled underground through a concrete tunnel, the once untamed Perry Creek influenced the unusual shape of the Simmons warehouse, as did a nearby railroad line that predated the building by several decades. The multitude of rail lines throughout the warehouse district in downtown Sioux City influenced oddly angled building shapes like the Simmons warehouse and its irregular pentagon shape divided by a wide interior tunnel. Its location and angled site placement is the result of Perry Creek, which ran past the northwest corner of the main building at the time of construction. The creek was channeled under the appendage, through a brick barrel-vault tunnel.

Architect


The Simmons Hardware Company contracted the New York City architectural firm Gordon, Tracy and Swartwout to design the building. Frank B. Gilbreth, a former bricklayer, was the developer of many innovations that improved both the efficiency and quality of the construction process, improvements for which he is well known. To the left is a first floor plan drawn in 1905 by the architect. Over 700 rail carloads of construction materials were used in building this warehouse, with 250 of the cars bringing in an estimated 2 million bricks needed for the job. Because of the soft ground in the Perry Creek basin, the building’s foundation rests on 1,900 20-foot long hardened concrete pilings that were driven down to bedrock. Undoubtedly, the 123 foot clock tower was intended to create a landmark and suggest the importance of the building.


The architect’s plan sheet for the east façade of the Simmons Hardware Company Warehouse shows the importance of the tower to the building. As built, modifications include the omission of the corbel table at the roof line for the curving or flared roofline, and the omission of the oculus windows or roundels between the arches of the fourth-story windows. The original tin clock faces were black with white features. Instead of numbers, the letters T-R-O-Q-R-L-A-T-P-I-F were used and stood for the Simmons’ company motto “The recollection of quality remains long after the price is forgotten.”


The first two floors of the warehouse are under construction in this newspaper view from January 1, 1906. Before the building was finished, a sixth floor was added to the tower. When it was completed, the local newspaper wrote…

The building recently erected by the Simmons Hardware Company – one of the architectural beauties of Sioux City – is situated on the corner of Fourth and Water streets, where it has all the advantages due to a central location, combined with ample railroad switching facilities, thus materially reducing the expense of handling goods and at the same time assisting in prompt dispatch of inbound and outgoing freight. This building was erected this year, covers a complete block, and is square in form, with a tower 123 feet high. A one-story addition is attractively fitted up as a sample room.
- Sioux City Journal, September 16, 1906

Parallels

Parallels can be drawn between the Simmons warehouse and the proposed project and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City. The fluid progress of commerce relevant to Iowans 100 years ago is echoed in the choice before them today.

  • The clock tower was intended to create a landmark – so too will the iconic Hard Rock Casino guitar become a landmark above the Sioux City skyline.
  • Simmons Hardware Company was a prime example of the nineteenth-century trend toward interstate corporations as the business model for American commerce – likewise, the gaming industry is shifting in favor of recognizable brands with national and international appeal.
  • In the late nineteenth-century, Sioux City focused on capturing interstate travelers by way of west-bound rail traffic – today, I-29 sees more than 40,000 vehicles per day, and Sioux City, now more than ever, must not only entice passers-by, but Sioux City should seize this opportunity to become a destination city for the region.
  • The Simmons Hardware Company building was purposely situated where it would have all the advantages of a central location combined with the convenience of nearby railroad switching facilities – today, the railroad is replaced by the interstate, and the proposed Hard Rock Casino location will share the same advantages of centrality and ease of access.
  • The contractor, Frank B. Gilbreth, started his career as a bricklayer and over the years developed many innovations that improved both the efficiency and quality of the process, improvements for which he is well known – Hard Rock Casino’s plan presents the most efficient use of land and structure, and the development team, forged by the most competitive gaming environments on the planet, are experts guaranteed to make the most of this opportunity.

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