United States Playing Card Draws a Losing Hand

by Margo Warminski
photos by Adam Nelson
video by Jeremy Loukinas

The iconic former United States Playing Card factory on Beech Ave. in Norwood is facing demolition. The Norwood city administration had hoped to find a developer to renovate at least part of the complex, but was unsuccessful.

The company that became United States Playing Card was started in 1867 as Russell, Morgan and Company, printers making mostly posters, placards and labels. They began printing playing cards in 1881, with 20 employees making about 1,600 packs a day.

In 1891, they renamed themselves the United States Printing Company, later changed to United States Playing Card, reflecting their new focus. The Playing Card Company produced several different brands of cards in its long history, including Bee, Aviator, Hoyle, and Bicycle: the leading brand in the world for more than a century.

In 1900 the company relocated to their new headquarters on Beech Ave. The buff brick multi‐building complex was designed by Hannaford & Sons, with its iconic four‐story bell tower added in 1926. The tower housed 12 carillon bells whose chimes were connected electronically to local radio station WSAI: the first built for the purpose of radio broadcasting. Not only was the station owned and operated by Playing Card from 1922 to 1930, it was located on their main campus.

Fun fact: The station used to broadcast bridge lessons, which could be heard as far away as New Zealand.

In 2009 Playing Card relocated to Erlanger, KY, and its Norwood campus has remained vacant since.

In 2020 PLK Communities, a property management firm based in Kenwood, announced plans to demolish most of the Playing Card complex, stating the buildings were too deteriorated to save. The bell tower, however, would be preserved, and the main building may be saved as well.

Updates will be provided when available.

Margo Warminski is CPA’s Preservation Director.

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