A Metalworking Tradition Forges On

Photos by Peter Woodall

Editor’s Note: We recently visited with metalworker Jason Roberts, whose 8,000 square foot shop occupies the former Yale & Towne Foundry a couple blocks from Globe Dye Works, in Frankford. After Yale & Towne, a manufacturer of locks and later forklifts, moved to a new plant on Roosevelt Blvd. in 1948, the building was bought by John Komada & Company. The family-owned wireworks firm, which specialized in custom commercial displays, closed in 2009. Roberts keeps a huge inventory of machines –both old and new– in his shop, a true collection of Philadelphia industrial history.

Founded in 2008, Roberts’ company produces high-end metalwork including ornamental, architectural, interior and exterior furnishings, and sculpture. With a degree in fine metals from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, Jason traveled around the country to refine his craft, working in shops located in Illinois, Georgia, and North Carolina.

Detail from Roberts’s patio gate at Silk City, 5th and Spring Garden Street

Jennifer Leibert: How did you end up in Philadelphia?
Jason Roberts: I came to Philadelphia because I am originally from outside of the city and love Southeastern Pennsylvania. I was familiar with the region and had friends and family located here. Plus, Philadelphia, being an east coast city that is affordable and growing in population meant a market I could pursue.

JL: And you found a remarkable building.
JR: I outgrew my previous shop, which was rented, and having as much equipment as I do, moving is a great expense, therefore, I started to look for buildings I could purchase. This building has remarkable space and suited my budget.

JL: Are you inspired by the history of the foundry?
JR: I was very interested in the history of the building because as a craftsman, I like to look into the past and learn from it. It is important to me to build upon that. I am also very excited to be the next chapter in this building’s history as an industrial property, whereas so many buildings like this are turning into lofts or several artist spaces. I consider myself apart of industry.

JL: In Philadelphia tradition, you must work with other craftspeople in the neighborhood?
JR: Erector Sets, Carter Studios, as well as developers such as Globe Dye Works.

JL: What do you think about Frankford?
JR: I am right on the border of Bridesburg and Frankford, but it depends on who you ask. It is in a nice neighborhood, close to suppliers and I-95, making it a quick trip to Center City Philadelphia.

JL: You intend to expand in the space and do some other interesting thing here.
JR: I hope to grow my business, utilize the large roof square footage for solar panels and green space and build a better office.

About the author

Jennifer Leibert was born and raised in the Kensington section of Philadelphia and has a deep passion for Philadelphia history. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and a M.A. in Museum Studies, with her graduate thesis focusing on public art in Philadelphia. After completing her college coursework, Jennifer was selected for The City of Philadelphia’s Destination Mayoral Fellowship, where she was apart of The Public Art Office (now apart of The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy). It was during this experience that her passion for art and architecture grew stronger. Jennifer is also a caretaker for an historic home in Northwest Philadelphia, teaches with the Claymobile Program (an award winning mobile ceramic art program), and is the Public Programs Coordinator at the Wyck Association.

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  1. Beautiful photos.

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