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Things Old Are New Again: Hershey’s Modern Office Building

Hershey Chocolate Corporation Modern Office Building, 1935
Hershey Chocolate Corporation Modern Office Building, 1935

People who regularly drive through Hershey on Rt. 422 (Chocolate Avenue) have noticed all the construction and reconstruction taking place at the original chocolate factory. Included in this project is construction work being done to the building at 19 East Chocolate Avenue, a structure also known as the Windowless or Modern Office Building.  Completed in 1935, this building served as the corporate headquarters for Hershey Chocolate for over forty years. Today, this building is the heart of The Hershey Company’s operational offices.

When the building was constructed, much of the world was struggling under the financial stress of the Great Depression. Jobs were lost as businesses retrenched. In Hershey, there was a different experience. Milton Hershey responded to the economic upheaval with a construction program. During the 1930s, many of Hershey’s monumental structures were built, including Hotel Hershey, Milton Hershey School’s Catherine Hall (then the Junior-Senior High School), the Community Building (14E), Hershey Sports Arena and the Modern Office Building for the Hershey Chocolate Corporation.

Milton Hershey’s great interest in innovation and experimentation shaped the design of this new office building.

Original plans for the building called for a conventional design with windows and awnings. As the foundation was being dug, Milton Hershey became intrigued with the idea of a windowless facility. Such a design would dramatically increase the efficiency of the heating and cooling systems. At Mr. Hershey’s direction, architect/builder D. Paul Witmer, quickly drew up new plans and construction continued without any delay.

The building was constructed of locally quarried limestone. Construction began in the fall of 1934 and was completed in December 1935.

The building was a real testament to Hershey skills and ingenuity. The building was designed and built by the Hershey Lumber Company (Paul Witmer serving as its manager). Certain interior building products were installed by the Hershey Department Store.

There was quite a bit of excitement regarding the opening of the new office building.  Hershey Chocolate Corporation hosted a public open house on December 28, 1935.  Almost 14,000 people attended during the day long event. The Hotel Hershey Highlights noted that the open house commenced at 9:00 a.m. and doors didn’t close until 9:00 p.m.

Visitors received a booklet, printed by the chocolate factory print shop, describing the building’s special features. In particular, the booklet described the building’s interior plan, its atmosphere:

Conditioned air, dust free

Lighting, flooring, ceilings, walls:

The room devoted to calculating machines and other noisy equipment has its walls of the same special acoustic plaster as is used on the lobby ceiling

Furniture, and telephone system:

Communicating facilities are provided between all office and the plant by dial telephones

Messenger service:

special small box type elevators connect the Receiving Department with the Mailing Desk.  A pneumatic tube system connects the Traffic Department with the Shipping and Stock Rooms of the plant for the rapid, safe delivery of all orders.

Today the building is in the midst of major renovations to make it a functional and modern (once again) office space for The Hershey Company.

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