Located at 28 Water Street, the JH and GM Walker Shoe Company built its four and a
half story brick factory building in 1870 and was a manufacturer of heavy boots which
were commonly sold throughout the American West. Boot and shoe manufacturing
was Worcester’s third largest 19th century industry with more than 300 employees
working in this building alone. In recent years, the building definitely showed its age
from the dark soot stained brick exterior, the boarded up and broken windows and
cracking brick mortar lines. In 2019, developer Anthony Rossi acquired the defunct
factory building, giving it a new life and transforming it into what is now the Walker
Lofts. The 62 unit residential building provides luxurious apartments with onsite amenities to new city residents, and restores much of the historic fabric of the building
both interior and exterior.

Before these vacant brick buildings are turned into the luxurious loft style apartments
that we all know and love, the existing interiors are typically rugged, dirty, have leaking
roofs and the floorboards stained with oil and grease from years of manufacturing.
This factory seemed to be preserved in time with pulleys and line shafts still secured to
the ceiling as if boots were still being produced off the line yesterday. Quite a different
feeling if you ever have the chance to explore a factory before and after an industrial
rehabilitation project.

One of the most feasible and cost effective ways developers have chosen to repurpose
factory buildings is by adapting them into residential communities which helps lessen
the ongoing housing demand. The Walker factory was a perfect location for residential
units being in a popular downtown neighborhood, walking distance to public
transit and right in the heart of a developing mixed use district. The new development
consists of studios, and both one and two bedroom units which is in line with the local
demand and helps get the density needed for a feasible development.

A unique design choice that makes this project stand out from its predecessors is its
white washed interior bricks both in the units and common spaces. If you ever have
the chance to spend time in a loft apartment, you may notice the large industrial
windows, the original refinished floorboards, but there is often a sense of dim lighting
from the dark red brick walls. Interior designer Tiffany Barqawi of Barqawi Design
made the choice to use a white, black and gray color palette to liven the rooms with
tones that reflect light, refresh the space with vibrance, and add a contemporary twist
to a rather rugged look. The interior still celebrates the industrial aesthetic by keeping
the brick, beams and ceiling exposed, while the white and black paint is able to give a
contemporary look and a modern industrial feel.

The units themselves feature open floor plan layouts with kitchens that have high end
cabinetry, stone countertops and top line appliances. Each apartment comes equipped
with their own washer/dryer, plenty of closet space and an energy efficient heating
system. The exposed ceilings, historic replica windows and repointed brickwork truly
help give the new residents an authentic experience of what it’s like to live in the
Canal District. The Walker factory is by no means the first of its kind in the area to
offer luxurious residential lofts, but without the vision, passion and creativity of the
developer and the design team behind them, this shoe factory may have seen its fate
as just another pile of bricks.