City might finally see development on Lullabye site
By Gene Kemmeter
After more than 25 years of trying, the city of Stevens Point may finally have a development on the former Lullabye Furniture Co. site along CenterPoint Drive and Portage Street between Third and Union streets.
Lullabye Furniture Co., founded by John Bukolt as the Automatic Cradle Mfg. Co., was a major employer in Stevens Point through the first half of the 20th Century into the 1970s. In 1897, Bukolt invented and obtained a patent on a self-swinging cradle and began to make them in a woodshed at his home on the north side.
Initially, he could make about three cradles per week, then built a temporary shop building to mechanize his production to 12 cradles per week, with several small boys as helpers.
When his sales continued to increase, he organized a stock company under the name of Automatic Cradle Mfg. Co. in 1904 and built a three-story 36×60-foot factory for production on the present Lullabye property. Six years later the company built a similar three-story addition, beginning a period of rapid development.
A third addition in 1912 involved a three-story 50×64-foot building, a fourth in 1914 was another three-story 50×60-foot structure, followed by a power house in 1915 that added a 100-horsepower steam power system.
A new brick, concrete and wood factory was constructed in 1916. That building was 90 by 200 feet and four stories high, with two electric elevators, steam heat, an electric lighting system and a private plumbing system. That led to increased production and expansion of products, including additional baby furniture, wheeled bassinettes, three-in-one chairs for babies (high chair, rocker and “go-cart” with wheels) and the “Flivver,” a pedaling car for children, along with wagons and scooters.
Lullabye became well-known nationally for its quality and workmanship and introduced the “‘I Love Lucy’ Nursery” furniture collection in the 1950s when the pregnancy of the star was worked into the storyline of the television series, creating another popular line.
But competition from cheaper foreign markets reduced the market for Lullabye products beginning in the 1980s, and the company went out of business in the early 1990s. The buildings were torn down later that decade, but the company retains a physical presence in the city. Bricks from the building were stockpiled and used in the construction of the gathering space addition on the west side of St. Peter Church.
The largest of the four stained glass windows in the St. Faustina Room depicts a corner of St. Peter Church and the former Lullabye Furniture building, with angels carrying bricks in reference to parishioners helping to save and clean the bricks from the Lullabye building and then using the bricks in the construction of the addition.
Since 2000 the city has reviewed several plans for development of the site, but the plans have always fallen through, usually because of funding issues. The largest valuation of those proposals was considerably less than the present project, falling between $5 million and $11 million.
The present proposal appears promising, providing a variety of housing and retail options for the community. Of course, the project needs oversight so the city just needs to monitor the various aspects to see it meets the standards addressed in a development agreement.