New Record Pressing Plant Drops The Needle In Old Bread Factory

 

General Baking Company’s Bond Bread factory at 300 E. Godfrey Avenue. The owner plans to reactivate the old industrial site through co-working space, art studios, and light manufacturing like Softwax’s vinyl record pressing plant. | Photo: Michael Bixler

As you first approach the Bond Bread building in the Lawncrest section of North Philadelphia, it appears to be exactly what it once was—an old, abandoned factory. However, the closer you get to the Godfrey Avenue site it begins to display new signs of life. There is hustle and bustle going through the front doors, and the loading dock is filled with trucks making deliveries. It is here that I meet Federico Casanova of the soon-to-be-open Softwax Records plant, the only vinyl record production facility in the area. Like many other start-up businesses—from Amazon shipping subsidiaries to commercial kitchens—Softwax has decided to make their home in this massive, recently unused industrial site.

For nearly six decades, beginning in 1921, the building was home to General Baking Company’s Bond Bread factory, once a staple of the neighborhood and an employer to many of its residents. It was said by some who lived nearby that during the height of the company’s production you could smell the bakery from a mile away. After closing its doors in 1981, the Bond Building became the home to a Ports of The World outlet, an offshoot of Boscov’s department stores. In the mid-1990’s the Ports of The World store was transformed into a regular Boscov’s before closing for good in early 2005. The space then spent years almost entirely untouched.

Putting Local Pressing on the Platter 

Casanova’s friends call him “Kiko,” and his warm, upbeat presence immediately makes you feel like one of them. As we first enter the warehouse, he guides me on a tour through a giant maze of boxes, furniture, and forklifts. It was in this room where the former Boscov’s department store was held. There are even some vestiges of this iteration in the form of lighting fixtures and signs advertising layaway.

As we push past to the back, Casanova opens the doors to what will soon be the Softwax plant. Although there’s not yet much in the huge space, you can hear the excitement in his voice about what is to come. The cavernous white room seems to inspire Casanova as a blank canvas soon to be filled with multiple record pressing machines, offices, and employees.

The Bond Building is still a work-in-progress, but will soon be the home to even more workspaces, storage units, meeting rooms, shipping centers, and kitchens, along with the companies operating out of them. This repurposing of the historic space excites Casanova. “That’s part of what I love about it,” he says. “It’s like we’re part of a revitalization.”

Bond Bread’s Lawncrest factory circa 1930s-40s. | Image courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Casanova was born in Miami and spent his first 18 years there. An artist and musician, it was only after his brother moved to Philadelphia and invited him to come visit that he began to think about moving here.

“I fell in love with the city as soon as I got here. I went to go visit a couple months [after the first visit] and it just solidified my love for the city. It was really cool. I never experienced a city that had as many like-minded people as me. I met so many people that were out there doing the same things that I was doing.”

While living in a South Philly house that hosted bands from around the city, country, and world, Casanova noticed that many of the groups were playing songs they had written over a year-and-a-half before that, since that’s how long it took them to get the songs pressed on vinyl and make them available to sell. With no local pressing plants around, there was definitely a market out there.

“My engineering friend said, ‘We should look at pressing records. How hard could it be?’ Turns out, really hard,” Casanova laughs, “and really expensive!”

In 2013, he set out to make this dream a reality, although not without its hurdles. Since the industry was so small at the time, he found almost nothing about it online. Casanova eventually contacted Chris Moss of Lathe Trolls, an online record pressing forum, for advice.

“[Moss] ripped us a new one,” Casanova remembers. “He told us we don’t know what we’re doing, so we start writing notes. After about an hour and a half of him teaching us everything, my team was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore. This doesn’t sound fun.’” With his team bowing out, not only did Casanova still want to pursue the record plant, he “wanted to do it even more after that.”

Federico Casanova in Softwax’s production space next to a vinyl record pressing machine. The group plans to acquire five more machines with a goal of pressing a record every 30 to 40 seconds. | Photo: Michael Bixler

The next step was getting a business plan together, which was difficult. To get accurate numbers, he called up every supplier he could find until he finally got it done. Casanova even took business classes to learn more about what goes into making a start-up.

Now armed with some concrete numbers to show people, he got a job at a record pressing plant in New Jersey, one that prints vinyl exclusively for major labels like Epitaph Records. He even met his current engineer Dan Greathouse there.

Casanova eventually moved back to Miami to work for another record pressing start-up. “That’s where I learned a lot,” he admits, “but also learned a lot about what not to do. It was a start-up and you’re gonna mess up sometimes.”

So why vinyl? “Listening to a vinyl is extremely engaging,” Casanova says. “The whole ritual of it is cool, the sound is super warm, the artwork blows my mind.”

His love for the format and of music helped him to stick to his dream, even during the harder times.

“There was a time when I was selling insurance just to try to save up money to have capital for the business,” Casanova recalls. “The days would be at the office, making phone calls and going out to meetings. I would come back home around 10pm just beat and all I would do is go back to the record player, put on the headphones, kick my legs up and damn, it felt so good. That was the highlight of the day.”

The Bond Building’s water tower and smokestack tower above the building. Plans for the area behind the factory include recreational green space for tenants. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Although it had been a long process, Casanova, along with engineer Greathouse and Michael J. Wodnicki, Softwax’s chief technical and financial officer, finally began to searching for a building that would have everything they needed. They ended up spending nearly six months with no luck.

The team told their realtor, “We’re wasting time looking at every property. Let’s only look at properties that have high-pressure gas lines installed.” To run the record-pressing machines, it’s imperative to have high-pressure gas lines. Installing some would cost around $100,000 and would take weeks.

“We should have been doing that from the get-go,” Casanova says, “but we just didn’t know. There’s no guidelines on how to be doing this. It’s an industry that’s been asleep since the 1980s. Only the big companies stayed alive.”

Once they found the Bond Building, the crew at Softwax knew it was the perfect spot for their goal of making affordable records for local bands, something that Casanova knows is needed in the area. “It would make sense because shipping vinyl costs about $500 or $600, so they’re already saving money on shipping alone.”

The boiler room and gas should be ready by the end of July with production kicking off in the fall if all goes well. Casanova says there will be four presses at first, with the ultimate goal of six machines pressing a record every 30 to 40 seconds.

About the author

Bryan Bierman is a freelance writer from Philadelphia. He has written for such publications as AV Club, Village Voice, Red Bull Music Academy, Philadelphia City Paper and others. His favorite water ice flavor is cherry, hands down.



13 Comments


  1. This is great! Thanks for sharing this story, Bryan. The HSP photo is misdated, though. Those aren’t 1916 cars. I’m guessing the date refers to 0ctober 19th. I’d say the photo was taken about 1940 or 1941.

  2. Lawncrest is in Northeast Philadelphia, not North Philadelphia. Actually, despite what many maps say, Lawncrest is not really a neighborhood itself but the name of the community center between the Lawndale and Crescentville neighborhoods. The old Bond factory is in Crescentville.

  3. I live in the neighborhood and I’m so happy to see this property being used. Congratulations and I wish you much success!

  4. Out of work Teacher looking to do something else you guys hiring?

  5. The Bond Bread factory photo does not date from 1916; the cars in the photograph are all from the 1930s.

  6. Great article. Glad to see the building being reused. I grew up nearby and can attest that you could smell the bread baking. Also, Lawncrest is not North Philly. It’s the Northeast, just barely but still is

  7. Charles F. Merk

    My father was the manager of the Bond Bread wrapping room, which was on the first floor of your building. He worked there on the evening shift from the 1950s to 1970s. My Uncle Joe Merk worked there also. My three brothers and I worked during the summers and holidays; our jobs were to take the place of the men going on vacation. Paid for some of my Drexel tuition. Included feeding the bread ovens and taking the pans of loaves of bread off the conveyer belts. Very hot. Also loaded the large delivery trucks headed for central Pa. and Southern/ Central NJ. The hardest job was to mop the red stone factory floors (for eight hour shifts). Easiest jobs were to work on ‘sweet dough’ which included preparing pastries for baking. We would take the 50 PTC – now Septa – trolley car to get to work – from 5th and Wingohocking Star. To Rising Sun and Godfrey. BTW – we could smell the bread from our Cardinal Dougherty High School at 2nd and Godfrey.

    Glad to see this factory back into business !!!!

    • Bond Bread, like so many businesses, employed thousands of Philadelphians that lived nearby. Sadly most these factory buildings have been abandoned for far too long. My Uncle, Con Nolden, was the sales manager at Bond for its final years struggling to complete with large national bakers.
      The trolly rides up 5th, the smell of baked bread all pleasant memories.
      The reuse of the Bond building and the additional jobs it brings is the start of another era of Philadelphia manufacturing history.

  8. This is FANTASTIC !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. We used to take school trips to Bond Bread when I went to Creighton Elementary School on Tabor Road. Then, in 1966 I was a vacation relief driver during the summer. I got there on my Honda motor bike. I had the experience that they wanted because in 1965 I was a driver for Good Humor.

  10. I grew up just around the corner from here (in the “regular Boscov’s” days). Wild to me beyond belief that something like this could pop up in Lawncrest. Vintage stores in Frankford? Sure, it’s on the El. But Lawncrest? You gotta take two buses or one & walk a mile to get there. So I’m not expecting this to kick off any massive neighborhood sea change anytime soon. But I guess this is how it always starts.

    (Folks are right that Lawncrest is a portmanteau, but that doesn’t mean it’s not what people call the area. Also, I’ve always said we’re in “lower northeast” philly; it’s above the Boulevard)

  11. Another example of factory worker murder in the USA.

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