The story behind the world’s most extravagant self-storage facility

Photography by Chris Mullins

The point was to make a statement—and it worked.

Although no one is quite sure what the large, looming cylinder structure just off the 75th Street exit on I-35 in Lenexa is supposed to be, it can’t be missed. According to a blog post published by the Johnson County Library, brothers Harry and Melvin Eisen originally commissioned the structure for their family business, House of Fabrics. They wanted to give their new corporate headquarters “an identity.”

For approximately fifty years, the structure has dominated its surrounding environment and puzzled passersby. Is it meant to be a crown or an abstract sheaf of wheat or a spool of thread? None of the above. 

The brothers, who had secured an industrial bond from the city of Lenexa for more than $3 million, bought the property on Lenexa Drive and went about building their headquarters. They wanted the huge structure to be practical but also a bit grand. 

Like a corset, the lofty circular foyer is created by large, evenly spaced cement columns that rise well above the rest of the two-story structure and bend out toward the top. Harry called the forms “flower petals” that were created for “aesthetic purposes.” 

Built in the late sixties, the majority of the 208,000-square-foot building is nondescript, created to consolidate the warehouses and offices for House of Fabric and its parent company, Eisen Mercantile.

Abraham Eisen, a Russian immigrant, started the mercantile business as a dry goods store on Walnut Street in Kansas City. In 1939, his sons took it over, and in the 1950s they opened a sewing and fabric business. By 1968, the singular sewing shop had grown to more than a hundred franchises in twenty-two states, including thirty-four storefronts in Missouri and Kansas.

The business was sold to Gamble-Skogmo, Inc., and Eisen Mercantile moved out of its Lenexa location. Lee Jeans moved in, then moved out. At the moment, a self-storage company, among several other businesses, calls the locale home.

Various businesses have inhabited the space over the years, but the original inlaid-tiled Eisen Mercantile logo still adorns the foyer, another statement long outlasting the business that made it.

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