The Pandora Mill building in Manchester’s Millyard caught plenty of attention through the years as people spotted the “Home of Pandora Sweaters” sign atop it. More recently, with the sign removed, it was probably the copper roof of the building’s central tower that drew gazes from Granite Street.
Now Pandora Mill is getting its day in the sun. Together with the building owner, 1850 Associates, the Manchester Historic Association will designate the building a city landmark on Thursday, May 13. The old mill was named to the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s “Seven to Save” list in 2008.
“It’s our way of putting a crown on it,” said Aurore Eaton, executive director of the Manchester Historical Association.
Since it was built in 1850, the Pandora building has been a landmark in the city. Vacant since it closed in 1990, Pandora is the last Millyard building to be renovated.
“For some reason, it sat waiting for its day to come,” Eaton said.
There were potential deals that would have turned the building into a hotel or apartments, but they fell through. 1850 Associates, a company owned by Bedford inventor Dean Kamen, is investing more than $10 million in the building, Eaton said.
“It’s important historically, but also it’s important in the memory of many Manchester people who worked there, or their parents or grandparents,” Eaton said. “Pandora Industries was a well-respected, internationally known corporation. They sold their own line of sweaters. … They had an outlet store in Manchester and people would go right before school to buy them. When people were on fall foliage tours, they’d go to the outlet.”
Workers have spent about a year and a half renovating the structure, which, when complete, will offer nearly 130,000 square feet of office space. The finished product will be LEED silver-level certified.
“It’s been every bit as hard as we thought it would be and then some,” said Don Clark, director of property management for Gateway and Technology Center, a management company overseeing redevelopment. More than 100 workers could be on the premises on a given day.
Two years ago, Clark predicted the building’s shell and core would be complete in late April 2010. Off about a month, he said he can live with that. Once the shell and core restoration are complete, the six-story building will be fitted for the incoming tenants. Clark said his company has had several showings for potential occupants.
“It’s not only stabilizing the building and keeping it from falling apart, but it’s taking a really huge step forward. It’s a shining example of many things,” Eaton said.
There have been challenges, such as finding bricks to match what was already in place. The building wasn’t built all at once, so structure didn’t always match up exactly. Clark said workers have had to replace much of the building’s structure.
There can be difficulties in renovating buildings built more than 150 years ago and bringing them up to modern codes. Aside from preserving a small section of one of the building’s original staircases, workers had to create three new staircases. In cases like that, Clark said the larger goal of restoring the building superseded preserving the staircases. The weathervane that was once on top of the building will be hung in the lobby.
Along with energy-efficient lighting, low-volume toilets and sinks, 75 kilowatts worth of solar panels and efficient insulation, the renovated building will include locker rooms, showers and bike racks to promote alternative transportation. All those items help toward the LEED certification, Clark said. The renovated version of Pandora will collect rain water in the basement — as much as 6,000 gallons — to be used in the building’s systems.
Construction crews are building a 208-space parking deck adjacent to the building along Granite Street. The deck will be completed in late July or early August, Clark said.
The copper roof won’t always shine so brightly. It’s meant to weather and turn greenish, Clark said.
Built in 1850, Pandora Mill is one of the oldest buildings in the Millyard. It was operated first by Manchester Mills, which was founded in 1839. Manchester Printworks, which took over the building in 1849, produced wool and textiles out of wool, including flannels and printing fabrics, but its major production was of man-made chemical dyes, which entailed using giant rollers — a real specialty in those days, Eaton said. The building ended up housing a variety of weaving operations.
The building once had a pitched roof with dormers, as opposed to today’s flat roof. At some point, insurance companies demanded the pitched roof be taken down as it made it too easy for fires to spread. The distinctive, gothic-style tower on the building wasn’t built until 1870.
In 1875, Pandora housed 1,000 looms.
Eaton said it was possible and perhaps even likely that President Abraham Lincoln went into the building in 1860 during a tour of Manchester Printworks. She said it was one of the largest buildings the company owned, so it seems likely Lincoln would have visited it.
Some of the designs coming out of the Pandora building in the 1800s were nothing short of psychedelic. Eaton said some of the patterns looked like those of the 1960s and 1970s. There was plenty of experimentation going on, she said.
Manchester Printworks wasn’t all that successful financially, as it had a lot of overhead, but it was important. Other companies brought their textiles there to be printed. Amoskeag Manufacturing bought the building in 1906, on the way to owning all the Millyard by 1922. It was then used for other textiles. Amoskeag went bankrupt in 1936 and Silver Brothers bought the Pandora building and used it in its bottling and distribution business.
It was in 1940 that Pandora Industries moved to Manchester from New York City, but the company didn’t buy the Pandora building until 1949. Pandora began operations in the mill in 1950. Pandora became one of the major employers of the Queen City, with as many as 1,000 people working for the company.
Pandora maintained itself as a major sweater and sportswear maker into the early 1980s, making as many as 60,000 sweaters per week. Pandora sold the company in 1983. After that it had a few different owners before it closed down in 1990, to stand vacant until now, Eaton said.
The revitalization of the Millyard really took hold in the 1960s and 1970s as part of a more widespread urban renewal. About half the Millyard’s buildings were torn down, canals were filled in and space was modernized. The Pandora building didn’t always stand alone. It was obscured by other buildings. It was always one of the largest, but there were some larger buildings around it as well as smaller ones, Eaton said.
The Millyard itself was fairly diversified and successful through World War II. But its success began to run out. Many of the manufacturing companies that called it home moved to other, cheaper locations, such as Mexico. Beginning in the 1960s, the Millyard began to decline to a point where it became decrepit. The prevalent thought was to simply tear it down, Eaton said.
Eaton said changing the zoning beyond industrial opened the doors for what the Millyard is today.
“It’s a product of people having good imagination,” Eaton said. “The old mill buildings have been put to really good use.”
Today there are colleges, museums, a church, restaurants and offices in those buildings. The only thing missing is housing, but that’s a possibility for the future, Eaton said.
Home to Pandora Sweaters
Driving into Manchester’s downtown on Granite Street, drivers can’t miss the Pandora building. Years ago, the building stood out, yes, but the sign, “Home to Pandora Sweaters” did even more.
“Just the way it’s been reconstructed, this building stands out as one of the gateway buildings to the Millyard and the city,” Eaton said. “For many years, you could see the giant sign, ‘Home to Pandora Sweaters.’”
The Manchester Historic Association is currently storing the sign. Eaton said she’s open to ideas for displaying it. Space is an issue. The “t” is 16 feet tall, Eaton said.
“We’re waiting for an opportunity to do something,” Eaton said. “We’d sort of like to see it reconstituted.”
Eaton said it can’t be outside, however, as the letters took a beating over the years atop the mill building. She said they’re too fragile now.
“It’s an emotional touchtone,” Eaton said.
Call the Association at 622-7531, send e-mail to email@example.com or visit www.manchesterhistoric.org.