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Building a Future
Behind the windows of an old storefront
along North George Street in York, Pennsylvania, lie treasures of the
past. No, it’s not just any ordinary antique shop. It’s a shop
jammed with pieces of old buildings, some small, some large, all
interesting. Sure, there are architectural antique shops, but this one
is different. The Architectural Warehouse not only sells unique pieces
from the interiors and exteriors of old buildings, it sells them so
other old buildings can live to see another day.
Pieces From the Past
Operated by Historic York, Inc.
a fundraiser, it helps save items that might otherwise be lost to
landfills, while helping to preserve York’s architectural heritage.
Since 1975, this private non-profit organization has assisted in the
rehabilitation of over 75 buildings, either by purchasing them,
restoring and reselling them, or by providing a small grant in exchange
for an easement that ensures that a particular building will be
According to Melinda G. Higgins, HYI’s
executive director, the organization began by saving The Billmeyer
House, an Italianate structure, from demolition. "A group of
citizens formed and raised $250,000 to buy and restore the
building," said Higgins. "In the end, the owner decided to
keep the building and reuse it and HYI turned its attentions to other
With an annual budget of $450,000,
finding funds is a full-time job for Higgins and her staff of seven.
Besides sales from the Architectural Warehouse, HYI receives funds from
consulting services, donations, and special events.
But just like all good things, the
Architectural Warehouse got its start as a grassroots movement. "A
number of our board members kept noticing the loss of architectural
items to the burn pile or trash, so we began to collect these items and
store them in friends’ barns," Higgins said. "When too many
things had accumulated, we began to list items for sale in our
Higgins sadly recalls that during a
series of arson fires in area barns in the 1980s, HYI lost a great
number of items in two of the barns. In 1985, HYI opened the
Architectural Warehouse in its first location in a warehouse behind an
area art gallery. Staffed on Saturdays by volunteers and during the week
by gallery staff, it outgrew the space in six months and by the spring
of 1987, HYI moved it to its present location in downtown York. "We
had the first floor for $1/year," added Higgins." Of course,
we had no heat, no plumbing and very little electricity and the roof
leaked. But we slowly began fixing the place up and eventually bought it
and rehabbed it into our warehouse with offices above."
HYI has lead the battle for historic
preservation movement in York County. It was the first to open a salvage
warehouse and produce a resource directory of contractors and architects
that specialize in older buildings. Higgins said that before HYI opened
its warehouse, she visited similar businesses in New York and Vermont.
Besides raising money for HYI operating
expenses, the Architectural Warehouse seeks to provide a place to
recycle architectural building pieces to assist the owners of historic
houses in finding unique and hard to replace items for their projects.
Higgins noted that many people building new homes, incorporate these
items into their design.
The Architectural Warehouse acquires its
inventory through consignments, donations, and the HYI’s own salvage
efforts. A loyal group of customers can find anything from old interior
and exterior doors, shutters, windows, mantels of all sizes, hardware of
all kinds, advertising signs, even theater seats. Plus, the place is
packed to the rafters with pediments, doors, transoms, grates,
chandeliers, and stained glass windows. These items provide an
alternative to costly reproductions. A unique item is the horse yoke
hanging over the mirror in the restroom.
One of the most popular items is
individual letters from a theater marquee. "Everyone has something
they want to spell out," said Higgins. And then there are all the
furnishings of a 1950s beauty salon. If it’s in or part of an old
building somewhere in York, HYI eventually gets it.
The shop’s customers include
decorators, preservationists, architects, renovators and even filmmakers
from Hollywood. The most recent movie to use items from the
Architectural Warehouse was Disney’s "Tuck Everlasting,"
filmed in Maryland. According to Higgins, the producers were searching
for items to recreate a c.1900 farm house and used quite a number of HYI’s
Unfortunately, the Architectural
Warehouse is almost out of space. Higgins said that it can function in
its present location for a while as long as HYI is able to rent an extra
warehouse for overflow items. "Business is growing, and we’re
happy that we can continue to provide a place to recycle architectural
items and provide income that can be used to continued our advocacy and
educational programs," said Higgins.
HYI has listed more than 30 buildings on
the National Register of Historic Places and 15 districts (about 20,000
buildings total) on the National Register of Historic Places. Higgins
noted that it has also inventoried 45,000 historic buildings in York
County, Pennsylvania. In addition, her staff assists developers with
using the Historic Preservation Investment Tax Credit representing
several million dollars in re-investment.
For more information, contact HYI at
717-843-0320. Or stop in 224 North George Street, York, Pa.. Shop hours
are from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., Mondays through Fridays, and 10 A.M. to 4
P.M. on Saturdays.
more articles by Bob Brooke, please visit
his Web site.
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