Springfield, MO

The former Solo cup, built in 1952 by Lily Tulip, has its place in Springfield history.
The former Solo cup, built in 1952 by Lily Tulip, has its place in Springfield history.

Cup of Change

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It had a few names over its 60-year history.

It was the Lily Cup when it was unveiled in 1952. It became the Sweetheart cup after ownership changed in 1989. And in 2004, it became a property of Solo Cup Co., with SOLO in capital letters written across its face.

More recently, it seems to have become an inconvenience for its facility owners, who last month tore down the Solo cup that held a significant spot in Springfield’s history.

At the time, Warren Davis Properties officials said the cup was removed because it no longer fits with the facility’s facade or current uses. However, another reason has since surfaced on social media that suggests the cup structure was demolished to avoid potential legal action by the cup’s former owners.

Springfield attorney John Price of Carnahan, Evans, Cantwell & Brown PC, who represented owner Davis Properties in talks with Solo over the fate of the cup, said in an exchange on Facebook that copyright issues were driving the change. In the comments on artist Russ RuBert’s Facebook wall, which have since been deleted, Price said an offer to repaint the cup also was rebuffed.

A Jan. 17 post by RuBert – known for his K-Man at Jordan Valley Park and other sculptures – points out the Route 66 landmark is no longer an option for visitors to see. RuBert’s art studio is located across the street from the Solo cup action.

His wife, artist Pam RuBert, chimed in with a comment.

“Can you say Boring?! [sic] Why would anyone buy a world-class monumental building and rip the only thing off it that makes it interesting? While some people in town are trying hard to give Springfield a unique, exciting identity, apparently others are just interested in making it another franchise-laden city,” she wrote. The RuBerts could not be reached for comment by press time.  

After first agreeing to an interview with Springfield Business Journal, Price rescinded after talking with his client. He cited Warren Davis’ desire to protect his relationship with Solo Cup officials.

“We’ll stand on a ‘no comment,’ I guess,” he said in a voice mail message. “You have probably already seen the Facebook postings I’ve made, and we’re not retracting those, but they would just prefer to leave it at that.”

Margo Burrage, manager of corporate communications for Solo’s Mason, Mich.-based parent company, Dart Container Corp., said no lawsuit was threatened and the decision to remove the structure was made solely by Davis. Burrage also disputed Price’s Facebook claim that repainting was not an option.

“There was nothing in the purchase agreement regarding the cup’s removal. Dart offered to split repainting costs with the purchaser, but ultimately Davis Properties decided to remove the cup,” she said by email.

Davis Properties took ownership in 2010 of the now 1.35 million square-foot property at 1100 N. Glenstone Ave. The plant shuttered operations in 2011, laying off 340 workers at the time.

Since Davis Properties bought the plant for $7.9 million as Solo was winding down operations, it has worked to refill it, signing tenants Buckhorn Inc., Reckitt Benckiser and NewStream Enterprises, a division of SRC Holdings Corp. Last month, Patrick Harrington, a real estate agent for Davis Properties and Davis’ son-in-law, said the hulking facility also has 340,000 square feet of vacant warehouse space remaining.

Directly behind the cup sits 30,000 square feet of office space across two floors and a basement that Davis Properties plans to lease.

Bernie Dana, head of Evangel University’s business department, said his office faces the Solo cup and there’s some nostalgia associated with the structure. Dana graduated from Evangel in 1967 and remembers the building at the height of its use.

“I was surprised for some reason that it didn’t get preserved, but I am sure it didn’t make much sense to leave it there, either,” Dana said. “I pulled up the other day and saw that big gap in the wall.”

The gap, it seems, represents a missing piece of history.

John Sellars, executive director of the History Museum on the Square, said the Lily-Tulip plant helped redefine the course of the Queen City.

“That cup was iconic because it said that Springfield was a center for national manufacturing companies,” Sellars said.

In its heyday during the 1960s and 70s, Sellars said Lily-Tulip employed over 1,600 people across three shifts. Workers in the building manufactured everything from small paper cups for medicine, to foam cups and coffee mugs up to tubs for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sellars said.

The $4 million plant was dedicated in June 1952 after a group of businesspeople, including C. Arch Bay, enticed Lily-Tulip Corp. officials to build in Springfield, according to Springfield-Greene County Library records. The company, which had considered dozens of cities, agreed to move forward with the development in 1951 after it was provided a prime piece of real estate on Route 66.

“It was all a part of a concerted effort by city leaders to reinvigorate the community as far as its industries. It had a lot of agriculture, a lot of small farms. They’d been experiencing a couple of years of drought. Everybody was needing work,” Sellars said. “We were very attractive because we had a large group of people with a great work ethic, and they really wanted to work.”

Dayton Rubber Co., the forerunner to Dayco Corp., Royal-McBee, a typewriter company that built and occupied the Regal Beloit plant on East Sunshine Street, and Zenith were all examples of companies that invested and hired in Springfield in the years following Lily-Tulip’s construction.

“It was tremendous foresight on the part of the city because it put us in a position where we weren’t dependent on any one industry. That’s had long-lasting effects,” Sellars said. “We’ve had a great, diverse industry base that has seen us through some tough times.”[[In-content Ad]]


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