Developers plan to breathe new life into York property

Four large, venerable buildings sit at George Street and Springettsbury Avenue in York.

Four large, venerable buildings sit at George Street and Springettsbury Avenue in York. The sounds of an electric saw and
pounding hammers emanated from the third-floor windows of the home at 900 S. George St.
on a recent weekday morning.

The structure, built circa 1890, is composed of grayish
white stones with a darker-hued roof and matching accents. It was designed by
famed York
architect John Dempwolf for John C. Schmidt, former president of Standard Chain
Co. and Schmidt and Ault Paper Co. His wife, Anna Small Schmidt, lived at the
residence until 1951.

Around that time, the building was sold to Christ Lutheran
Church in York and was used as a personal-care home.
Over the years, the property became dilapidated until the home was shut down in
early 2006 because it was deemed unfit for human habitation, said Mike Johnson,
managing partner of York Preservation Partners.

York Preservation Partners purchased the property for about
$100,000 in July. The group intends to invest nearly $1 million to convert the
residence into three luxury condominiums, Johnson said.

The 8,500-square-foot main house will be split into two
large condos – one 5,000 square feet and the other 3,500 square feet. And what
used to be a carriage house will be transformed into a third condo with about
2,700 square feet.

The city has approved the conversions, but the developers
must submit land-development plans and a condominium declaration, Johnson said.
He said he hopes the project will be complete by the end of the year. The
condos will be for sale, but the prices have yet to be determined, he said.

“We feel very good about the market for those in York,” Johnson said.
“There really are very few condominiums within the city at this point that
could be considered truly luxury condominiums.”

Four individuals came together as York Preservation Partners
when the group decided to purchase and renovate another Dempwolf home at 701 S. George St.
into three apartments. Johnson declined to name the others in the group. The
project was completed last summer.

Johnson retired in 2005, but over the years, he worked for a
variety of financial institutions in Maryland,
Washington, D.C.,
and Dauphin County. During that time he lived in York and commuted to his
jobs, he said.

“Our group is particularly interested in historical
preservation for residential purposes,” Johnson said. “It’s certainly a
financial risk to all of us, but we’re a group that’s very interested in
improving the quality of life in York
city, quite honestly.”

York Preservation Partners brought in Olde York Homes for
consulting purposes and to complete the carpentry work on the property, said
Gary Geiselman, a partner in Olde York Homes. Geiselman’s group has been in
business for nearly 30 years and specializes in the renovation and restoration
of old buildings. Olde York Homes also offers custom millwork and cabinetry

Within the past five years, Geiselman said he’s watched the
trend of renovating old, historic homes into usable spaces pick up speed.

“These places are just turning into white elephants,”
Geiselman said. “I think there’s a market for this because they’re great
houses, they have great features inside them, and people can take advantage of
living in a house like that and not having to pay for all the square footage.”

The George
Street home was in particularly bad shape, said
Barb Raid, architectural historian for Historic York Inc. Her organization
works to help identify, preserve and reuse old buildings.

Despite the dilapidation, this particular building was
extremely architecturally significant because it was designed by Dempwolf, Raid

Dempwolf designed numerous structures throughout York, including the
Central Market House building and the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center.
His firm operated from 1870 to 1926, when he passed away, she said.

“Dempwolf was the most prominent, most well known, most
prolific … the best in history for York,”
Raid said. “When you see a building in York
that’s particularly substantial and elaborate, it’s probably a Dempwolf.”

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