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The World’s Largest Picnic Basket Faces an Uncertain Future

The fast decline of a kitschy landmark

(Barry Haynes via Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

For almost 20 years, Newark, Ohio, has been home to one of the world’s most curious landmarks: the World’s Largest Picnic Basket. Standing seven stories tall and more than 200 feet wide, the basket was built to be the headquarters of the basket-making Longaberger Company. But while the basket-shaped building may be a unique space to house a business, since the company has left it for a new office, the odd landmark’s future is now uncertain.

Dave Longaberger founded his eponymous company in 1973, and it soon became synonymous with its trademark handwoven maple baskets. At one time, the company was the largest producer of handmade baskets in the United States. However, by the '90s the company's original building had become decrepit, and Longaberger wanted something different to replace it, the Associated Press (AP) reported at the time. So, he commissioned a team of architects and builders to make him a giant Longaberger basket.

"It looks like a picnic basket in the middle of a field," Dave Dahnke, a senior manager with NBBJ, the architecture firm behind the building’s design, told the AP. "It's a piece of pop art."

While the architects and builders tried to talk Longaberger out of the design, he remained adamantly devoted to his vision. At one point, he even declared that “If they can put a man on the moon, they can certainly build a building that’s shaped like a basket,” Claire Voon reports for Hyperallergic. At 160 times the size of a standard Longaberger basket, the "Big Basket" was completed in 1997, and it is hard to miss. Not only are the building’s outer walls built to mimic the woven, sloping sides of the company’s iconic baskets, it comes complete with giant handles as well. The designers even replicated the brass tags that bear the company’s name on many of its baskets in proportion with the rest of the $32 million building, to match as much of the detail as they could.

"It's going to bring people here to see it just like they go to New York to see the Empire State building," Newark mayor Frank Stare told the AP at the time. "Someone jokingly made the comment that you'd better hope Longaberger never goes belly up because who would want a building like that."

However, in the years since, Longaberger died, and his company has struggled. The company still owes $577,660 in property taxes stemming from the building’s construction, reports The Newark Advocate’s Kent Mallett. Finally, after nearly 20 years based out of the Big Basket, the company’s current CEO John Rochon Jr. announced earlier this year that the company would move its 10 remaining office workers out of the now-decaying building and relocate them to space at its manufacturing plant in nearby Frazeysburg, Ohio. Last week, they completed the move and locked the doors to the Big Basket for the last time.

For now, the Big Basket remains empty with little clue for what will happen to it next. Though Rochon says there is some talk of donating the building to the town, it seems unlikely that a deal will go through. In the meantime, the Columbus Dispatch's Tim Feran reports that because the Longaberger Company is so behind on its taxes, the Big Basket might be seized by the county and sold for auction at a sheriff’s sale.

"At this point, the minimum bid would be $570,000 plus court costs," Licking County Auditor Mike Smith tells Feran. "So you could own the Big Basket for less than $600,000."

So for someone looking to own the World’s Biggest Basket with a few hundred thousand dollars in their pocket, this could be a Yogi Bear-level steal of a deal.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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