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Building a Future With Pieces From the Past  
by Bob Brooke


Behind the windows of an old storefront along Prospect Stree 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. Refindings—York's 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.

Refrindings 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 preserved.

It all began with the saving of 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 buildings."

But just like all good things, the Refindings got its start as a grassroots movement of the Historic York, Inc. A number of its board members kept noticing the loss of architectural items to the burn pile or trash, so they began to collect these items and store them in friends’ barns. When too many things had accumulated, we began to list items for sale in our newsletter.

A a series of arson fires in area barns in the 1980s resulted in the loss of 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, moved once again. In 2010, Historic York, Inc. sold the Warehouse business to Refindings.

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 sought 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. Many people building new homes incorporate these items into their design.

The original Architectural Warehouse acquired its inventory through consignments, donations, and the HYI’s own salvage efforts. Here, 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.

One of the most popular items is individual letters from a theater marquee. 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 got it.

Refindings 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. The producers were searching for items to recreate a c.1900 farm house and used quite a number of HYI’s pieces.

HYI 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. The group has also inventoried 45,000 historic buildings in York County, Pennsylvania.

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