Wandering in York County

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Uplighting highlights the brown stone bear on the corner of The Rupp Building. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

Catching a glimpse inside York’s great buildings – without being nosy

One of the reasons I look for events happening in York is to get a glimpse inside a building or business. I don’t consider it being nosy, I just like to learn more about the ins-and-outs of the architecture in our county.

Circa 1900 photo of York’s Continental Square. The smaller building is the current location of Downtown Inc. Photo from book called York City: 250 Years 1741-1991.

On Dec. 19, Downtown Inc held an open house for volunteers and donors. Since I have never seen inside their building, of course I RSVPed. Located at 2 East Market Street, Downtown Inc’s brick building rests right in the heart of York City. Around 5 p.m., my friend, Garrett Schoonover, and I arrived at their location to enjoy a few spirits while networking with fellow Yorkers.

In addition to a social gathering, the night marked a historical milestone in York’s history — the debut of the Rupp building’s facade lighting. At 6 p.m., the party bundled up and ventured across George Street to 2 West Market Street, exactly opposite of Downtown Inc’s location.

Circa 1900 photo of the Rupp building. Photo from book called York City: 250 Years 1741-1991.
Silas Chamberlin, CEO of Downtown Inc, and Dylan Bauer, Partner and President of Development at Royal Square Construction and Development, speaking about the Rupp building’s facade lighting. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

After gathering in close, we listened to Silas Chamberlin, the CEO of Downtown Inc, say a few words about the building. Dylan Bauer, Partner and president of Development for Royal Square Development and Construction, also discussed the project. You can watch their presentation as well as the lighting of the Rupp building on Fixing York PA’s Facebook Page.

The story of an iconic building 

The Rupp building is a six-story Victorian constructed in 1892 by Daniel Rupp. The well-known architect, J. A. Dempwolf, designed the structure. Prior to the Rupp building, one of York’s first post offices occupied the plot.

Uplighting highlights the brown stone bear on the corner of the Rupp building. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

According to Gordon Freireich, one of the most overlooked details of the building is a carving that looks like a gargoyle from far away. Actually, the brown stone carving is a bear and a shield located on the corner of the second floor. The shield displays the initials “D A Rupp” as well as the date of the building’s construction. “The use of the building has changed over the past 125 years, but the bear maintains its historic post as a silent witness to the still changing Square,” Freireich wrote.

This year, the 23,436 square-foot building changed hands again when the sixth owner, the Rupp building LLC, purchased it for an undisclosed amount. Josh Hankey and Dylan Bauer, two principals of  Royal Square Development and Construction as well as two anonymous York families created the LLC.

The LLC hired Royal Square to renovate the six floors as well as clean the exterior. According to Emily Thurlow, who interviewed Bauer, “The first floor was once home to Maple Donuts, a deli and Marcello’s Pizza.” However, maintenance on the building declined “since those businesses left, and remediation is needed due to extensive water damage.”

A clearer view of the bear on the Rupp building. YDR Photo.

At present, Dale E. Anstine, a personal injury law firm, occupies the third and fourth floors but the first, second, fifth, and sixth floors remain vacant. However, they hope to bring in new clients soon including a coffee shop.

Since 2015, $30 million -$50 million have been invested in the quadrant of downtown York. In an interview with Paul Kuehnel, Bauer reported that they want to attract businesses that create a “place-making center,” and are open seven days a week. This correlates to the development company’s mission of  building “communities that positively impact the way people live and work.”

Rupp building, inside and out

After receiving our history lesson from Chamberlin and Bauer, the group assembled outside on that chilly December night counted down to watch the facade lighting shine upon the brick of the Rupp building.

Together we yelled, “3…2…1… .”

The debut of the Rupp building’s facade lighting. Jamie Kinsley Photo.
The lit up Rupp building with the bronze eagle and brown stone bear. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

The entire square came to life with bright brown reflections dancing in the square. Behind us, cars drove under the Christmas star and Iron Horse York’s restaurant lights lit the path for pedestrians.

After the debut of the lighting, Bauer gave us a tour of the inside of the building.

First floor of the Rupp building. Royal Square Construction and Development has been renovating the structure since June, 2018. Jamie Kinsley Photo.
Inside the Rupp building. Jamie Kinsley Photo.
First floor of the Rupp building. Jamie Kinsley Photo.
Second floor of the Rupp building. Jamie Kinsley Photo.
Santa waving from the second floor window inside the Rupp building. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

The ebbs and flows of York’s story

The city of York has a long history of growth and decline. With the Industrial Revolution and both World Wars, manufacturing and urban development lead to more houses and jobs. Downtown York bustled with shops, pubs, and apartments. Unfortunately, with suburban sprawl, people moved away from the city and into the fringes of the countryside. With the loss of people and businesses, York’s downtown took a cultural and economic hit. However, the community stayed alive and is currently experiencing a boom.

Luckily for us, the city planners put serious thought into the growth and flow of Continental Square. The way roads and blocks are designed help navigation that create a comfortable and safe place for residents and visitors.

A paper written by  Lee S. Sobel explores the square designed for York. He writes, “How civic, commercial, and other uses are distributed, and where buildings are specifically placed on their respective lots, can improve the way a town functions.” Formal town layouts have not only created the foundation of the town, but helped form the traditions of a place, including York.  

One of the patterns most associated with Pennsylvania towns, including York, is the diamond-shaped square. Sobel argues the term comes from the Scott-Irish who emigrated from the port town of Londonderry, Ireland, who called their square a diamond.

A suggested mass transportation plan for York’s Continental Square showing the diamond-shape. Figure from The York City-County Comprehensive Planning Survey, 1948.

York’s diamond-shaped square meets at the intersection of George and Market Street. The four recessed corners operate as plazas. The recessed openings also house Downtown Inc, Iron Horse York, a bank, and the newly renovated Rupp building. The diamond pattern can also be found in Dillsburg, Lebanon County’s Schaefferstown, and Dauphin County’s Middletown.

Over the years, the diamond square has been the location of many monumental events including parades, demonstrations, speeches, and celebrations including when the Continental Congress met in the county courthouse in the middle of the square in 1777-78. The intentional flow of the buildings, streets, and open spaces create York’s public realm that connects the heart of York. Without the recesses in our square, buildings would tower over the street preventing any civic engagement.

1860s photo looking east from the square shows the open-air markets utilizing the diamond-shaped square. Photo from book called York City: 250 Years 1741-1991.

On the most basic local level, the diamond-shaped square of York provides a sense of order and structure that helps us create memories that reinforce our county’s culture, character, and history.

Ok, maybe I’m was nosy for wanting to see inside Downtown Inc and the Rupp building. But, it reminded me of the intentions of our forefathers: Plan and develop a public space, in the heart of our city, that fosters meaning through togetherness.

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