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Former Noxzema plant gets a face lift as new apartments

The Fox Industries building on Falls Cliff Road is being renovated for apartments and artist spaces, but years before its recent use, it was known as the city's Noxzema plant.
The Fox Industries building on Falls Cliff Road is being renovated for apartments and artist spaces, but years before its recent use, it was known as the city's Noxzema plant. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

I've been waiting for something to change at the Fox Industries building, the industrial plant built into the east side of the Jones Falls Valley in the Hampden-Remington-Stone Hill section of North Baltimore.

News arrived recently that this 90-year-old building would be converted to apartments — following a decade-long trend that has seen the neighborhoods' old work places transformed into residences.

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Dominic Wicker, development director for The Time Group, the Baltimore firm that purchased the building, forecasts an "exciting project" that will retain some its features.

"There are ceiling heights in excess of 14 feet, and we are looking to preserve the polished concrete look of the floors," Wicker said. "The windows will be a combination of glass block and hopper windows that open out."

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The building has been used primarily by Fox Industries, a concrete additives firm, but nearly a third of it was rented by local artisans. As it's refurbished, space will be retained for artist-workers when it reopens in 2018.

"There'll be more or less 10,000 [square] feet of rentable studio artisan space in the building," Wicker said.

While it's been known as Fox Industries for decades, I always think of this building as the old Noxzema plant.

It was here the skin cream was manufactured from 1926 to 1966. After that, the company that evolved into the Noxell Corp. moved to Hunt Valley.

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Noxzema, which has the scent of oil of eucalyptus, is tied to the patent of George A. Bunting, the class of 1899 valedictorian at the University of Maryland College of Pharmacy.

He had a drug store on North Avenue, just west of Charles Street, and by Baltimore custom was addressed by the courtesy title "doctor."

According to his obituary in 1960 in The Sun, Dr. Bunting was experimenting with vanishing creams when he came up with the famous compound. The story goes that a customer named the cream, proclaiming: "It sure knocks eczema."

By 1925, sales of the product topped $100,000. It was then being made in a rowhouse at 102 E. Lafayette Ave., and the Noxzema workers were literally knocking into each other in the crowded location.

Dr. Bunting found a triangular lot in the Jones Falls Valley in 1926 where he built a new home for Noxzema. Partially on Roland Avenue, Falls Road, 33rd Street and Falls Cliff Road, his concrete-walled plant never tried to be beautiful. It was just practical.

It joined other industrial neighbors, including the Stieff silver plant and the Mount Vernon mills, where workers made canvas products from cotton shipped in by the Pennsylvania Railroad, now the Central Light Rail Line.

By 1931, as the country was suffering economic woes, Noxzema Corp. took out an optimistic advertisement in The Sun with the headline: "There's no Depression for Noxzema."

The ad was tied to an expansion of the original plant. "With the new, modern annex just completed, the Noxzema factory is now working full blast supplying more Noxzema Cream than ever before."

The ad contained an "inquiring reporter" section with testimonials from Baltimore users. Winifred Cassard, of Suffolk Road in Guilford, stated she used the cream for blemishes. Charles Rein, of Baker Street in Coppin Heights, said it soothed a shaving rash. Catherine Holmes of North Avenue in Oliver called the cream "refreshing."

In my own family, the stuff was popular. My grandfather, Edward Jacques Monaghan, went to the Falls Cliff Road loading dock and bought an enormous blue glass tub of the stuff — Noxzema was sold in blue-glass jars, like its fellow Baltimore product, Bromo-Seltzer.

Pop Monaghan purchased the jumbo size that was normally used in barber shops. His Noxzema stash was so large he kept it on the floor under a dresser. As a child, I was amazed at the number of people who helped themselves to his supply.

He smoked cigars and chewed tobacco too — but the quarters he held were forever scented by the oil of eucalyptus.

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