1215 Unity Street Philadelphia, PA 19124
Churchville Fabrics, originally known as Philadelphia Felt, is situated in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, a few blocks from the Market Frankford Elevated Line. The company was started by Harry Lonsdale who originally founded Lonsdale Fabrics in the 1800s that specialized in wool and felt, re-upholstery, civil war reenactment outfits and blankets. Churchville Fabrics is now owned by Oregon-based SMS Auto Fabrics, which specializes in interiors for classic cars.
The building consists of three floors which now house on the bottom floor: a weaving room with some 40 looms, a felting room, and a dyeing room accompanied by fabric dryers and stretchers. On the second floor resides a barebones office space, as well as a storage space for hundreds of different variations of fabrics for distribution and shipping. Once two active floors of weaving, knitting and felting withhundreds of employees throughout the 19th and first half of the 20th century, this factory is one of the few left of Philadelphia’s fading textile industry. Bob Indoe, the factory’s general manager, carries on the tradition of Philadelphia’s once highly skilled workforce. He sees this business through, as a master in his craft, who knows the ins and outs of every machine. He admits it’s hard these days to find anyone with even minimum qualifications to do the work. But, because they run such a specialized business, that they are still able to stay afloat, even with under a dozen employees, filling orders for places all over the US and even a few overseas. Owner/President Doug Pollock has the complex well equipped with beautiful machines, a variety of traditional and computerized European looms manufactured in the past thirty years. Bob remarks that Doug is always looking for a good deal on these machines to buy, which happens often as textile mills around the world are going out of business and closing up shop. It really is remarkable to see so many varied pieces of large machinery in one room.
Upstairs in the office is a small collection of antique looms and some photographs of what the factory used to look like, iconic photos of women in plain cotton dresses staring blankly at the camera. The looms were all once driven by ceiling mounted belt driver. It was amazing to see and imagine what this place might have looked and sounded like in its prime and peak of production mode.