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The architectural firm’s design work and Royal Square Development and Construction’s renovation earned the 2018 Public Impact Award from Preservation Pennsylvania.

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As restaurants, bars, stores, and apartments sprang up in parts of downtown York, Pennsylvania, a prime retail strip just west of the city’s square languished. While nearby neighborhoods enjoyed resurgence, the first block of West Market Street couldn’t find its footing. 

That changed after a visionary study by Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects of York and Baltimore was brought to the attention of Royal Square Development and Construction by Better York.  The subsequent design work by the architectural firm and renovations by Royal Square Development and Construction have earned the 2018 Public Impact Award from Preservation Pennsylvania.  

The Market Street Revitalization Project award focused on the Woolworth Building, the former Weinbrom Jewelers, and a building that is now the Timeline Arcade. 

“The Woolworth building was vacant for over 20 years,” says Frank Dittenhafer, II, FAIA, LEED AP, President of Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects. “There had been fits and starts with the Redevelopment Authority that never went anywhere. Weinbrom’s was empty for approximately 10 years. We were instrumental with coming up with the vision for what could be implemented.” 

New businesses, residences 

Murphy & Dittenhafer had conducted a comprehensive study of West Market Street. It also had been talking with Royal Square officials about the properties identified for rehabilitation and adaptive reuse. 

After two to three years of preliminary studies, Royal Square Development and Construction put together a development package that would spark an extraordinary transformation of the block, which Dittenhafer says is viewed as the anchor of York’s downtown prosperity. 

Woolworth and Weinbrom “involved a unique combination of preservation/restoration of important elements like the façades of the Weinbrom building and stabilization of the structures long with   adaptive reuse for new purposes,” Dittenhafer explains. 

The buildings now house a restaurant space, a craft brewery, and a variety of other retail tenants. 

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The Woolworth building stretched southward from Market Street to the alley behind it. The architects’ vision was to demolish a portion of the rear of the building and add parking plus construct an outdoor deck for residents of new loft apartments that surround the deck, which Dittenhafer calls “one of the great new outdoor spaces in downtown York.”  

The front or northern portions of the property were designed as leasable space on the first floor and apartments above.  

The Weinbrom work involved upgrading the lower level for retail use that wraps around onto South Beaver Street and converting the space above to apartments and the rear of the property to loft apartments. The original storefront facades were meticulously restored. 

“We brought a lot of creativity with our experience in restoration and new uses, and it was completed by Royal Square,” Dittenhafer says. “The state of Pennsylvania recognized that with the award.” 

A pioneering approach 

Murphy & Dittenhafer’s portfolio includes multiple State of Pennsylvania award-winning historic preservation, restoration and adaptive reuse projects. The first was the Byrnes Health Education Center at 515 S. George Street, York, at a former art-deco Dodge dealership. 

“Adaptive reuse was a relatively new thing, especially in York County,” Dittenhafer says of the 1996 project. 

His firm embraced the idiosyncrasies of the old showroom, the esthetics of the service area and its steel beams, creating a series of educational theaters instead of classrooms.  

“It was quite groundbreaking at the time,” Dittenhafer says. “We received a State preservation award that set the stage for other projects throughout Central Pennsylvania - and is part of the legacy of Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects - that we take on the unique and unusual situations.” 

A history of awards 

Last year, Preservation Pennsylvania honored the firm’s redesign of the former Lafayette Club in York, built in 1839, which was transformed into York College of Pennsylvania’s Center for Community Engagement. The learning center for Hospitality Management majors, complete with a state-of-the-art kitchen, earned a Construction Project Award. 

In 2016, Murphy & Dittenhafer’s work earned three preservation awards. At the Forum Auditorium in Harrisburg, the firm replaced seats, updated mechanical systems and helped restore what Dittenhafer calls “a phenomenal 1932 art deco space.” Restoration work at the 1766 John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion in Harrisburg earned an Initiative Award for Stewardship. 

Work to enhance riverfront and educational activities at the Zimmerman Center for Heritage in Wrightsville, York County, which includes an 18th-century mansion, earned an Initiative Award for Education that same year. The challenge was to make all of the steeply sloped property accessible to visitors, who arrive by vehicle or boat to learn about Susquehanna River history and Native American heritage.  

Other award-winning restorations recognized by the State of Pennsylvania include the Hanover Junction train station along the Heritage Rail Trail and the 1826 Wallace-Cross Mill, both in southern York County.  

“We love taking on these historic preservation situations and finding ways to sensitively reactivate and repurpose them,” Dittenhafer says, noting that Royal Square Development and Construction has a similar mind-set. 

“We seem to get involved in the most challenging projects,” he says, “and we have the skills to turn them into reality in terms of new uses and to maximize usage.”