Our History

2010 – Artist tenants brand the four-story building the American Fabrics Arts Building. Tenant, Emily Larned, an artist and letterpress printer, creates a new logo for the building by repurposing the historical American Fabrics Company logo.

The American Fabrics Arts building joins forces with City Lights Gallery for the 2nd Annual Bridgeport Art Trail.

An article in Connecticut Cottages and Gardens features some of the artists in the building. A crowd of over 700 curious people explore the artists’ studios.

2008 – Westrock Development LLC. begins to renovate the American Fabrics Arts building. The company installs new electrical equipment and heating for tenants. Additionally, WDL builds more studio spaces for artists. The fourth annual Open Studios event continues to gain a following.

2007 – American Fabrics Company ceases operations in South. Rent from 1069-1085 Connecticut Avenue not enough to cover the property taxes, heat, and repairs. City of Bridgeport starts foreclosure measures and assumes control of the American Fabrics Co. building complex. Existing artists and companies in the AFC complex form a tenants association to work with potential developers and ensure continued tenancy.

The City of Bridgeport requests bids for the property. Two developers enter bids for the property – Westrock Development, LLC. and E/N Properties.

Westrock Development Inc. buys the American Fabrics Company building complex committing to invest $1.8mm in improvements to the building, including clean up of environmental problems and demolition of obsolete buildings.

2006 – Artists continue to rent space in the 4-story building. The second Open Studios event takes place by invitation only.

2005 – Artists/businesses in the Remington Arms Factory are evicted. Five move into the historic 4- story American Fabrics Company building, joining two photographers who previously rented studio space in the building. The 16 foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows provided wonderful light and space for creative work. The artists in the building hold their first Open Studios event in December. The event is invitation only.

1992 – AFC moves all operations to the South. Ostrover family continues to own the buildings at 1069-1085 Connecticut Avenue. The buildings are leased to area businesses and eventually artists.

1987 – AFC leases a manufacturing plant in Mississippi. Management declares that it is for expansion purposes. The Bridgeport facility employs roughly 620 workers at the beginning of 1987. Sales were estimated at $40mm. Management of AFC begins to hire non-union workers to continue operations.

Politicians request that AFC stop new hiring and resolve negotiations. After nine weeks, the strike is resolved. The new contract gave wage increases of 8-9 percent per year for three years.

1985 – Local 240 of the United Textile Workers of American go on strike in June protesting wages and benefits. After weeks go by, a broad coalition of Bridgeport religious groups called for resumption of negotiations.

Around 1980 – Harvey and Julian Ostrover share the President role at AFC.

1962 – Members of Local 14 of the Amalgamated Lace Operatives of America cease work in a grievance dispute and picket AFC. This affected 32 employees. The dispute centers on the use of chairs by the weavers. The company had supplied chairs for the workers when they were not weaving. Management wanted to remove the chairs after it found that the workers would move the chairs behind the machines and occupy themselves so it was impossible for them to watch the machines. AFC opens a company store, adjoining the factory building, to sell its products.

1959 – AFC celebrates 50 years in the United States. Bridgeport Sunday Post runs a special section on AFC. 

AFC employs 500 workers and maintains 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space. It produces 25% of the United States Cluny Lace on over 300 looms. The Separator Corporation is established as a subsidiary of AFC, it specializes in a special chemical process for separating laces and serviced other US Textile Manufacturers in addition to AFC.

A fight over control of the company based on changes to the company by-laws in 1953 continues and in 1959 a court petition was filed to dissolve the corporation. The Berger/Ostrover family and Merdinger family remain in control.

1958 – Raschel Knitted Goods moved to Shelton, CT. and called Mitchel Knitters, Inc., a subsidiary of the American Fabrics Company.

1951 – Raschel Knitted Goods division is established.

1950s – AFC acquires United Laces and Nets, Inc in Rhode Island. It is run as a subsidiary of AFC.

A new building is built to house the Finishing Division.

1948 - The executors of the William T. Morris Estate, the largest shareholder in American Fabrics Co, disposed of its public shares in the American Fabrics Company. A group from New York City that included Samuel Berger, Harry Merdinger, Joseph Mook, and Morris Mook purchased the shares. The new management placed H.A. Phillips, formerly General Manager of AFC, in the position of President.

A disagreement between partners resulted in legal action. Soon after taking the reins as President, Mr. Phillips resigns and Harry Merdinger takes over as President.

1931 – Embroidery Division is established.

1930s - A reciprocal trade agreement negotiated with France attempted to hinder lace production in the United States by reducing tariffs. The American Fabrics Company management predicted that reductions in the tariff would “finally result in unemployment,” forcing the American company to stop production and import the French laces. The trade agreement was passed. By 1948, the workforce had been reduced to 450 people.

1926 – Woven Labels division is established with 88 Label Weaving machines.

1925 - The American Fabrics Company manufactured 60,000,000 yards of lace materials per year. As a Bridgeport Sunday Post reporter stated in an article that year, “Bridgeport could run a lace girdle round the entire globe every twelve months and still have enough left over to make a substantial bow knot!”

An interesting bit of trivia, the lace inspectors at the mill had adopted the European custom of singing and chanting while they delicately passed the fabrics through their fingers in search of flaws.

1922 – Narrow Fabrics division is established. The division utilized 40 Fletcher machines.

1920s – In the early 1920’s, the American Fabrics Company employed approximately 750 people. The building complex included two four-story mills. The 4-story building that currently stands along Connecticut Avenue is the only 4-story building remaining and is now called the American Fabrics Arts (AFA) building in honor of the buildings heritage. The building still features the original marble staircase and iron railing This magnificent entrance led to the wood paneled executive offices on the second floor of the building.

1919 - The seized shares were sold at a public auction on February 15th for the sum of $1.2m by Frank Miller according to some documents; other documents state that it was Walter B. Lasher and William T. Morris. At that time, Walter B. Lasher became President of the company and changed the name to the American Fabrics Company.

1918 - The company changes its name to the International Textiles, Inc. in March and declares that it had no enemy interests. On June 8, 1918, following an investigation of the Alien Property Custodian, all International Textiles Inc. shares were seized. The Alien Property Custodian was a government entity responsible for the seizure, administration, and occasional sale of enemy property in the US.

1917 - When America entered World War I, Alb & E Henkels Inc. changed its focus from non-essential decorative trimmings to providing weaving binding tape for soldiers’ blankets, leggins, and mattresses. Max Henkels started to erect cottages for the workmen that were low in rent, two to five room cottages supplied with bathrooms of the best sanitary conditions.

1917 - The company had grown to 100,000 Sq. Ft., encompassing four different buildings that housed modern equipment, at the time, to manufacture laces for interior decorating purposes and women's wear. The plant manufactured millions of yards of lace per week from moderate to luxury priced goods.

1916 – Leavers Lace Division established with 22 machines to manufacture fine lace woven to 6 yards wide. It was the most intricate production in the textile industry. By the end of 1916, productions had doubled.

1915 – Company incorporated in the state of Connecticut on May 25, 1915 as Alb & E Henkels Incorporated.

1910-1915 - The company continues business as a branch of the German firm.

1910 – Albert Henkels dies leaving all of the shares of the German and American entity to his two sons, Max and his brother, Albert.

1910 – The first plant, located at 1069 Connecticut Avenue, is completed. It was 10,000 Sq. Ft. and housed 25 circular lace machines that specialized in manufacturing Cluny Lace. The first Cluny Lace manufacturer in the United States.

1909 – Albert Henkels of Langerfeld, Germany selects Bridgeport, CT to build an American branch of Albert and Ernest Henkels, one of the largest lace manufacturing concerns in the world. He works with his son, Max, who had graduated from Berlin University and was a student at Columbia University in New York