When Jason Korb was looking for his first solo development project in 2010, he knew he found a winner when he laid eyes on an abandoned factory at 124 Montello Street in Brockton. The building was dirty and disheveled, with windows falling out and a completely gutted interior, but Korb saw potential in the former home of Stall and Dean, one of America’s first sporting goods giants.
Korb’s project, Station Lofts, has been open since November 2013, and people have gone from making jerseys and baseball gloves within its walls to cooking breakfast and watching television. You could argue that the building serves an even more important purpose now than it did in its heyday decades ago. The restoration and conversion of the building quite possibly saved it from being demolished, leaving a site critical to Massachusetts sports history standing for generations to come.
The building was originally built in 1880 by Lilly Brackett and Co., a leading shoe manufacturer from Boston looking to move to Brockton. This made sense because Brockton was at one time the largest manufacturer of men’s shoes in the world.
According to Jim Benson, the vice president of the Brockton Historical Society, the building was also occupied by the still-active George Knight and Co., which was a manufacturer of shoe-making equipment. Stall and Dean, the sporting goods company, moved into the building in 1917 and occupied the second and third floors before departing in the 1950s.
For Korb, the principal of Capstone Communities LLC, the history that occurred in the building was a factor in him making it his first project.
“I knew I wanted a historic building and I started scouring the internet, I especially looked in gateway cities with commuter rail lines,’’ Korb, a Somerville native, said. “I saw the building and it was about the right size for the first project on my own. I came down and just fell in love with it.’’
Korb loved the site, but there was plenty of work left to be done before his vision materialized. He needed the support of the local community, and an assist from the government with historic tax credits. The total cost of the project was $9.1 million. The restoration was completed in 11 months. Korb said he closed on the building on Jan. 18, 2013, and the first residents moved in on Nov. 27 of that year.
According to Korb and David Marx, an assistant property manager at Peabody Properties, which helps rent out the units, their first tenants were eager to move in to the converted factory. Within the first weekend the building was open, 23 of the 25 apartments were occupied. Today there is a waiting list to get a unit.
Those residents are living in a building that most sports fans don’t know about, but is actually very significant in Boston’s sports history. The NHL’s Original Six, which includes the Bruins, were outfitted with Stall and Dean apparel and products, which is to be expected considering it was the first American company to manufacture hockey equipment, according to the Smithsonian. Ted Williams wore Stall and Dean jerseys throughout his Red Sox career and so many early stars were endorsers for the company. Ty Cobb appeared in many of Stall and Dean’s early ads.
It is also believed that the catcher’s mitt was invented in Stall and Dean’s workspace.
Korb was adamant in saying how although the professional sports lore within the building’s walls is great, he is in awe of all the local impact that Stall and Dean had, seeing as it served as a national brand but was also open for customers to come in and buy equipment for themselves. Stall and Dean’s old catalogues are now collector’s items, with beautiful color ads displaying their newest products.
“Bobby Orr’s uniform, Ted Williams’s uniform, the first catcher’s mitt, that’s all great, but what I’ve actually learned about this building that’s even greater is this (he points to a framed Brockton High School letter jacket).
“It’s the person who wasn’t a professional athlete but bought their first baseball glove here. They remember their first time walking down the aisles and pulling off their glove off the shelf and smelling that smell. That’s what’s so amazing about this building.’’
Benson, a lifelong Brockton resident, says he was very pleased with Korb’s project, because so many of Brockton’s historic sites have met a less stellar fate.
“I was very excited,’’ Benson said. “I think anyone in the community that’s historic preservation minded was very happy. It was Brockton’s first brick shoe factory. It has a very long history dating back to the 1800s and it’s had many different uses both in and out of the shoe and sporting goods industries. It’s great to see it used for a new venture.
“I supported this from the beginning because we had the opportunity to save it rather than put a bulldozer to it and take it down, which has happened so many times. We’re glad the building’s still standing.’’
Korb was glad to save the property. He made sure to do the restoration in a historically accurate manner, even taking the time to trace over the original windows so the new ones he ordered were as accurate as possible. He consulted the National Park Service and the Massachusetts Historical Commission for this project, and even spoke with the historical consultant for Fenway Park.
“If I’m going to restore a historic building, that’s the right way to do it,’’ Korb said. “I’m passionate about history and I was a history major in college, so I love the building and think these buildings deserve the proper treatment.’’
Marx said the history of the building is one of his major selling points. Apartments range from $800 to $1350 per month.
“They’re putting up a brand new place down the street, but you’re not going to have these floors there. You’re not going to have the exposed brick or the beams. Like Jason says, a lot of people love the history. It’s a selling point we use a lot.’’
Korb has made sure to put the building’s past front and center. A history of the building, as well as old photos of Brockton, hang in the hallway. He has incorporated elements of the factory into the space. There are intentionally exposed beams in the units and old brick in the hallways. A massive fire door serves as the backdrop in the fitness center and old shoe molds hang in the halls. Korb estimates 80-90 percent of the building is still original.
Benson pointed out how an old shoe/sporting goods factory could make for a good apartment complex, mainly because of the plentiful large windows which originally provided natural light for workers and allowed them to discharge leftover leather dust. He added how Brockton is an under-appreciated hotbed of history, from Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler’s gym, to one of Thomas Edison’s first power stations. It is an area with plenty of industrial history that never gets the tourism Boston or Lowell enjoys.
For Korb, who says he knew next to nothing about Brockton before he began his development, the project was about saving a building and getting to know the community at the same time. He believes he’s accomplished both goals, and he’s taken an under appreciated sports landmark and allowed it to shine again with a new purpose.
“I could go develop high end luxury buildings somewhere but I have a young son and when he’s old enough I’m going to bring him down and show him this,’’ Korb said. “It means a lot to me. At the end of the day if you have a billion dollars you can’t take it with you. It’s about being a part of something bigger.’’