In 1970, Burlington House launched a new textile mill in the heart of New York City on the site of the old Ziegfeld Theatre at 54th Street and Avenue of the Americas. (1, 2) This newest mill for the company was the work of Chermayeff & Geismar, the design firm responsible for the United States pavilions at the World’s Fairs in Montreal and Osaka. Mayor John V. Lindsay cut the ribbon when it opened in 1970. (3) The Mill was designed to impress the public by showcasing the company’s products without producing a single yard of fabric. The Mill, covered 10,000 square feet and cost over $1.5 million. Real production equipment was set up on two levels of the mill. Visitors stepped off the street through the revolving door into the foyer of the building and were greeted by the Burlington family tree. The leaves were spools of yarn; the flowers were 30 inch diameter discs printed with the name of a Burlington product or division familiar to the consuming public. From the foyer, the visitors were invited to step onto a 155ft long moving belt called a “rideway” for an 8 1⁄2 minute ride through the amazing world of textiles. The raw material section displayed six different fibers animal, vegetable and mineral. There were wool – sheep; cotton –plant; rayonwood; nylon – natural gas; polyester – oil; and fiberglass – sand. Flashing lights indicated the upward process flow from the basic source on the ground level through the various manufacturing stages to the yarn packages on top. (1,2)
A portion of the brochure used to promote the project. Note midlevel “rideway” .
Design Study Center & Archives
School of Visual Arts Archives
The Mill during construction (1)
Next, visitors moved into the mill itself – claimed to be the smallest and most diverse in the world. Here in a threelevel manufacturing section the visitors saw and heard regular productionsize machinery – spinning frame, dye vat, warper, circular doubleknit machine, hosiery machine, hosiery boarder, jacquard loom, shuttle- less loom, raschel knitting machine, and carpet tufter. Although the parts moved as they would in actual production, the equipment was modified to merely simulate production. Mirrors framed the threelevel display, making the mill look enormous. (1,2)
The last segment of the mill, designed to showcase enduses, was a cinematic spectacle. Here, the designers used more than 5,500 color slides to dramatize the many uses of textiles in apparel, home furnishings, and industry. Sixtynine rearscreen projectors projected 1,500 images per minute on screens ranging size from 25 inches to seven feet square in a constantly changing kaleidoscope of colors, images, and sounds. (1,2)
As the visitors stepped off the endless belt, they stepped into a lobby similar to the entrance lobby with a reception desk and information counter. That was not the end of it, on the 54th Street side of The Mill, there was a giant billboard that showcased nearly 200 fabrics, illuminated at night by hundreds of electric lights. The Mill opened September 10, 1970 and remained open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 AM to 7 PM. Admission was free.(1,2)
Street view of The Mill (1)
Everyone’s invited (4)
A sevencolumn ad featuring a live turkey standing in the walkway and stated “Everyone’s invited to go through The Mill tomorrow” ran in the November 25, 1970, New York Times inviting families to stop by after viewing the Thanksgiving Day Parade. (4) The Mill was designed to handle perhaps 500,000 visitors per year. (3) While it attracted many over the ten year span that it was open, the operating cost and the feel that it became dated (“especially the clothing”) during that span, caused the company to close it in 1980. (3) The wondrous show was seen by millions and prompted a letter to the New York Times in 1999. “What became of this wondrous factory?” (1, 3) Another citation also celebrated the attraction. “The Mill has attracted more visitors than either the New York Stock Exchange or the United Nations.” (5)
- “Burlington goes Ziegfeld one better, Textile World, September 1970, cover and p62, 63.
- “News in Brief: Photo and caption, Textile Industries, September 1970, p19.
- “F.Y.I. – Through the Mill”, New York Times, October 3, 1999, http://www.nytimes.com/1999/10/03/nyregion/fyi-756989.html
- Display Ad 64 – No Title, New York Times ProQuest Historical Newspapers: November 25, 1970, page 19.
- George Basalla, “Museums and Technological Utopianism”, in http://www2.lib.ncsu.edu/catalog/record/NCSU226016 page 361.