Discover the history of the site that has built our community since 1918.
Rookwood Commons & Pavilion is well known for its luxury stores, high-caliber restaurants, and iconic “Le Blond” tower. Places like Starbucks, Nordstrom Rack, and Cyclebar are expected sights to the average visitor. But where did that tall Le Blond-adorned structure and vintage-looking building come from?
Before busy shoppers flocked to the center, the 20 plus-acre corner location was once home to the nationally recognized R.K. Le Blond Machine Tool Company. Previously located in the eastside Linwood neighborhood, the then small-but-mighty machine tool manufacturer began with just two lathes, a milling machine, and a few tools. Its first products included dental rolls, tag printing presses, cash registers, small steam engines, and routing machines. Before long, Le Blond’s expertise in the innovation and production of machine tools required more space to work. And that space is what is now known as Rookwood Commons & Pavilion.
Construction on the expansive production facility began in 1917. Its design embodied the 20th century “factory beautiful” movement in American industry, including the masonry chimneystack and adjoining manufacturing plant that still remains.
(We still find the design beautiful among the modern, open-air shopping center.)
To make room for the sizeable, self-sufficient manufacturing plant, the rolling hills that once held a dairy farm were smoothed over, digging a pond in the process.
(Yes, there was once water on our land!)
The new complex, completed in 1918, allowed Le Blond to expand into its most successful product of all: specialized lathes for round parts. This specialty differentiated the company from other manufacturers who produced flat work.
Both in peacetime and wartime, Le Blond dominated the market for specialized lathes. In fact, from the 1920’s to the 1950s, Le Blond claimed almost all stateside production and approximately 70% of the international market share.
During peacetime, virtually all moving vehicles were powered by engines with crankshafts made on Le Blond lathes. Le Blond’s development of the automatic crankshaft lathe made the manufacturer an integral part of the automotive industry’s evolution worldwide. Their lathe revolutionized this complex operation by turning out 30-50 finished crankshafts in an hour, greatly exceeding previous production rates.
During wartime, Le Blond had an incredible impact on war efforts throughout the 20th Century. Opponents in two world wars fired upon each other using ordinance of every size that had been bored and rifled on Le Blond equipment.
Innovation continued as the company expanded into the production of electrical tools, early aircraft engines, and fire engines, as well as a complete line of trucks, grinding tools, and measuring devices.
Their success directly impacted the prosperity of the Cincinnati community during an era that spanned the Great Depression, employing a number of eastside Cincinnatians, ranging from a few hundred employees in slower times to over a thousand in big production years.
The R.K. Le Blond Machine Tool Company operated at the Norwood location from 1918 to 1989 before moving its operation to mason as Makino Machine Tool Company.
But the story doesn’t end there. The site was converted to serve the local community in a new way. Rookwood Pavilion was completed in 1993, Rookwood Commons in 2000. Today, visitors to Rookwood Commons & Pavilion can enjoy anything from fitness classes to fresh dishes, high-end shopping to restorative pampering. There’s something for everyone!
The next time you visit Rookwood Commons & Pavilion, remember the rich history of the land you’re visiting. The Le Blond smoke stack and factory forever remains a lasting reminder of the land’s legacy that continues to make a positive impact on the Cincinnati community.