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Pajama Factory owner pushes back on officials’ criticism

Pajama Factory owner Mark Winkelman talks about the recent and upcoming improvements to the Pajama Factory. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

From the exterior, the Pajama Factory belies what surprises are inside.

“It’s all in my head for years what we want to do with this place,” said owner Mark Winkelman, an architect from New York City who, along with his wife, Suzanne, purchased the eight-building former industrial complex at 1307 Park Ave. in 2007.

The complex of 300,000 square feet has been around for more than 150 years.

Winkelman since developed it as a haven for artists and incubator for business start-ups and residential lofts, the smallest of which, about 600 square feet, leases for $750 a month.

From outside the factory, which was used in scenes for the 1957 ebullient Doris Day comedy “The Pajama Game,” it might seem like a shell of a building as any other in a rust belt industrial city.

The site presently consists of 145 spaces and 125 tenants.

Winkelman recently completed 18 new studio units on the fourth floor and had them all pre-leased and ready for occupancy last Dec. 1, 2020, and has tenants occupying the third-floor residence.

“I do not like to put residences on top of each other,” he said.

Zoning officer Gary Knarr said he wanted to see the place prosper but Winkelman agreed to the terms in 2015 when the city zoning hearing board granted him a variance provided he pave the parking lot.

Winkelman shrugged at the notion.

“I know,” he said. “The parking will be done,” he said, adding, “parking does not produce positive cash flow as leasing to tenants does.”

Meanwhile, while Winkelman said he hired a recent architectural graduate from Penn State to further design the structure, the perimeter of the property remains a work in progress.

“The building is on the National Historic Registry,” he said.

It is a treasure much as the nearby Original Little League Field is, which also received that significant historical recognition, he said.

The Pajama Factory was built between 1883 and 1919 by the Lycoming Rubber Co., a subsidiary of the U.S. Rubber Co. — one of the largest manufacturers of rubber goods in the U.S. The Lycoming division made tennis shoes, KEDS sneakers and gym and yachting shoes, as well as some miscellaneous rubber-related products.

After 1932, the rubber company moved out due to a drastic decline in product demand and the Weldon Pajama Co. leased space in the building beginning in 1934. Weldon purchased the entire complex in 1951.

It became the largest pajama factory in the world.

In the 1980s, the complex was renamed “Raytown” and housed restaurants, a nightclub, and a country line dancing venue — amongst other things until the current owners purchased the buildings.

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