The equipment responsible for the name of Banbury Place can now be viewed outside one of its buildings.
A banbury and a mill roll were displayed Wednesday afternoon on Galloway Street. The roll and banbury serve as the first two of several artifacts — along with gears previously used by companies at Banbury Place — that will be placed outside the building over the next week-and-a-half. A banbury is a piece of equipment used to mix rubber. The displayed banbury weighs 19 tons, while the mill roll registers at seven tons.
Patti Cigan, Banbury Place vice president, called the items tributes to everyone currently working at Banbury Place and those who worked at the Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. factory from 1917-92.
“It’s wonderful to have a true banbury outside,” Cigan said.
A manager at American Phoenix, the largest of the many companies headquartered at Banbury Place, approached Jack Kaiser, Banbury Place president, a few months ago with the idea of donating the banbury for display. Kaiser accepted and hopes it can help explain the origin of the area’s namesake. He also said an informational sign detailing the banbury and building will likely be put in place soon.
Kaiser and his late stepfather Bill Cigan became new owners of the 1.9 million-square-foot complex about a month after Uniroyal ceased operations in June 1992, putting more than 1,000 employees out of work.
Kaiser wanted to have a memorable, lasting name for the area more than two decades ago. While walking through the area currently occupied by American Phoenix, he saw a sign for the banbury mixer lab and was intrigued by the interesting name.
“The lightbulb kind of went on,” Kaiser said. “...That was probably one of the toughest decisions we had, was to figure out what we’re going to call this place.”
The complex already has several gears displayed on Wisconsin and Galloway Streets, and Cigan and Kaiser wanted to add to the selection. Cigan said the gears along Galloway Street have become somewhat of a mecca for pictures, particularly around graduations and weddings. Galloway Street also serves as a gateway for Eau Claire, and they wanted to showcase the city for people driving down that road.
American Phoenix plant engineer John Radle has worked for the company during the entirety of its time at Banbury Place. He worked at Uniroyal for 25 years until the plant closed, starting a job at American Phoenix shortly after.
“When you get right down to it, that’s really all I know how to do, is work,” Radle said.
Radle remembered the uncertainty and sadness felt by many people during the last day at Uniroyal, where he watched the final pair of tires being made.
Kaiser didn’t know how business would go when it started 27 years ago. Challenging years have existed, but it seems to be in a good position overall and has made its imprint on the community. More than 27 years after the new ownership, Banbury Place has around 150 different businesses, 35 apartments and 300 indoor storage units.
“We struggled for several years, especially in the beginning,” Kaiser said. “...(But now) there’s a generation that grew up with Banbury.”
With the installation of several items, including the equipment that gave the area its name, Banbury Place can serve as more of an entry beacon to the community.