Lever Soap Factory, Pagedale

Update: Demolished by Implosion and wrecking in late 2016, early 2017.

I’m trying to find out more about the abandoned soap factory in Pagedale off of Pennsylvania Avenue. Did you or someone you know work there? Know anything about its history? I learned that it was only abandoned in 2001 when Lever “streamlined” its operations worldwide, after being in use for approximately fifty years.

17 Comments Add yours

  1. I sorta recall when it was built – I was in 7th grade, so that would have been around 1953. A few guys from my HS class worked there during the Summers. Going to North County from Kirkwood or really, ANY points East, involved using what we called the "Pennsylvania Cutoff," which started at Delmar and ran up to St. Charles Rock Road. One would then drive East a bit and pick up Lucas & Hunt at the Normandy Wedge and turn left. This was, of course, long before I270 or I170 to reach the North.While I digressed a bit with the road map, the plant was always impressive when driving by at night; I think it operated 24/7 and was always brightly lit.Sorry I can't supply more info – maybe contact the City of Pagedale?

  2. Anonymous says:

    The plant opened in 1953, closed in 2001 and has been abandoned since that point, besides one corner of the lot being cleared for the parking of school busses. The building was well-built, but broken windows and the lack of closed doors has allowed the elements in, which has caused significant decay and plant growth.

  3. Chris says:

    It's shocking that it's in such bad condition after only 11 years, isn't it?

  4. Pat says:

    I worked there in the summer of 83, changing cloth socks on metalic-ribbed filters throughout the plant. The job was hot, dirty, and dangerous. I remember our crew needed a specific kind of wrench. Our boss told the plant liaison and within a few hours, we had what we needed — apparently, the plant had some sort of smelting ability because they made the tool there. There were emergency eye and shower stations on most of the floors, which I had to use when a bunch of powder caked on a filter fell off and hit me square in the face, making my safety glasses — like the old shop glasses — ineffective for keeping all debris out. The plant had large freight elevators and, from what I remember, was union. Some of the filters we changed hung in containment units with catwalks between them. When you loosened a filter tube, you could look down two, sometimes three floors: the detergent was shot through the tube filters using air and the excess/filtered material would be blasted out the cloth sock. We changed the filters in the summer and I remember it being over a 110 in the filter compartments. We’d come out to eat lunch and it would feel cool, only to learn the outside temp was in the low 90s. The factory had a lot of moving parts and machinery — it was a bit intimidating at times. When we were there, a worker sandblasting a tank outside fell and seriously injured his back. There were train tracks that run up and through a portion of the factory as well. We made $6 an hour and almost all suffered skin rashes that, in some cases, lasted months after we finished the job.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Amazing, Pat. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Dan White says:

    I worked on the construction management staff for the Post Dosing project in 88-89. I hope that when it was taken down the underground structures were removed and remedied as well.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      What is the Post Dosing project? I’m interested.

      1. Ed says:

        Post Dosing is where the factory would add additional cleaning components to the generic powdered soap. I worked at the factory when it was being de-commissioned and portions of it were shipped to GA to a factory there.

    2. Jimmie Lawson says:

      I remember taking a tour there in the early 80s.my stepdad was an electrician supervisor there.

  6. Lillian ivie says:

    Lever Brothers. Has been demolished. No longer there. I use to work in the Cafeteria .

  7. Shary says:

    Does anybody have a pic of the factory when it was in use? I grew up not far away and that factory used to groan, burp and smoke around the clock

  8. Bob says:

    Around 1980 or 1981, I dated a woman who lived in an apartment on Delmar. Her apartment was on the sixth floor and faced north. The plant could be seen at night, and from that distance looked almost like a castle.

  9. Tenell Cothrine says:

    Any know if Epa tested the site, for toxic waste because there not building anything, just being used for parking lot ?

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      The EPA does not list the the soap factory as a Superfund site. I suspect the lack of redevelopment is more due to its distance from an interstate highway, which most corporations want today adjacent to their manufacturing sites.

  10. Gary says:

    – the plant was built in 1953 for powder detergent manufacturing with a single spray tower producing Rinso, Surf, Breeze (remember a towel in every box) and Silver Dust (a water glass in every box).
    – a 2nd spray tower and building was added in 1970 to produce concentrated All with bleach, borax and brighteners
    – manufacturing of liquid detergents (heavy duty for washing machine, light duty for dishes) was added in the mid-70s
    by the mid-70s, the plant employed almost 1000 workers, many in the Chemical Workers Union
    – millions of $s were spent in the 80s and early 90s to add fabric softener production, increase powder throughputs, transition to concentrate powders, decrease emissions, and improve efficiencies.
    – at one point in the late 80s the two spray towers could produce a combined 110,000 lbs/hr of powder detergents making the site one of the largest in the world
    – around ’87 the EPA banned the use of phosphates in powder detergents which was the main cleaning/water softening agent. Though many other formulas and additives were tried requiring huge capital investments, without phosphates the liquid detergents soon out-performed the powders resulting in drastically decreased demand for the powders and the eventual demise of the plant in the late 90s

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Wow, so interesting!

  11. Patti Renner Homsey says:

    My dad worked there until 1985 when he passed away. He had only a couple years until he could retire so he worked there 25 or 30 years. He was in the union and in the warehouse shipping area. He loved it there and they treated my mom so well after he passed. We had lots of soap from the company store (big barrels with towels and glasses). On a family day, went on a tour which to 10 year old was so cool!

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