July 2009


Name: Keppel’s Wholesale Confectionery Company Building

Address: 323-329 North Queen Street

Built: 1913 (323-325); unknown (327-329)

Architect: C. Emlen Urban; unknown

The former R.F. Keppel & Bro. factory on North Queen Street is an elegant heap of a building, half Beaux-Arts dandy, half square-jawed pugilist, and crowned by a rusting industrial spire that looks like it was conjured out of a Charles Demuth painting.  In a town that gave birth to Hershey’s, Peeps, and chocolate Easter bunnies (none of which were a Keppel innovation) the building had a long but undistinguished clock-punching career as a candy factory.  But in its afterlife, the Keppel Building has transformed into an ad-hoc cultural institution that’s the envy of forgotten industrial buildings everywhere.  Lured by adaptable space and cheap rents, dozens of artists and musicians have taken up residence within its walls, beatifying the structure through the simple act of  doing exactly whatever they want to do within it.

The building was recently sold, and rents are reportedly going up.  The new developer has inevitable condominium aspirations, but radical change does not appear imminent.  Which in this case is a very good thing.  This is a building that’s comfortable in its own skin, be it terra cotta, brick, or rusting corrogated metal.

Lancaster Station

Eastbound, Lancaster Station (B. Leech, May 2009)

As you may have heard, Kodak recently announced that its signature Kodachrome slide film will be discontinued at the end of the summer, a few months shy of its 75th anniversary.  While most people will forever associate Kodachrome with that Paul Simon song, any fan of architecture, photography, or urban history should be equally familiar with the work of another man– Charles W. Cushman (1896-1972).  Cushman was a zealous amateur photographer and globetrotter in the early days of Kodachrome, and his life’s work (available online here through the benevolence of the Indiana University Archives) is testament to Kodachrome film’s visceral, almost alchemical ability to capture the colors, textures, and details of the built environment.

Harpers Ferry, WV

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (1940)

New Orleans, Louisiana (1941)

New Orleans, Louisiana (1941)

New York City, 1942

New York City (1942)

Chicago, Illinois (1946)

Chicago, Illinois (1946)

It is our loss that Cushman never passed through Lancaster– the closest he came, it seems, was Harrisburg in 1941.  But the world he photographed– the dynamism of everyday life amid the forthright patina of weathered cities– still surrounds us here.  At the twilight of the Kodachrome age, there is still time to document the city in a way that Cushman might have done.

To eulogize the passing of Kodachrome, Lancaster Building Conservancy is calling all interested photographers to participate in the First (and Last) Annual Lancaster Kodachrome Campaign.  Dust off your film camera, pick up a few rolls of Kodachrome, and take to the streets.  The Campaign will culminate in the fall with an exhibit of your best images, along with any historic Kodachrome slides we can dig up (if you have any you’d like to share, please contact bentleech@gmail.com).  Stay tuned for submission details and event info.  Kodachrome processing is notoriously slow, so there will be plenty of time to hammer out the details.

Groff Funeral Home

One in a series of portraits of Lancaster’s landmark architecture, acknowledged or not.

Name: Fred F. Groff Funeral Home

Address: 234 West Orange Street

Built: 1954

Architect: Henry Y. Shaub

The Fred F. Groff Funeral Home is an enigma: a monumental slab of a building tucked discreetly into the rowhouse-dominated streetscape of West Orange Street.  Resembling nothing so much as an enourmous barge to ferry the dead across the river Styx, the building exudes a mysterious sobriety in spite of the gleaming stainless steel curlicues of its Eisenhower-era signage.  Befitting a house of coffins, cadavers, and hearses, the building travels along starkly horizontal lines, from its long Roman bricks to its sweeping ribbons of marble.  Its entry portals glow like the Art Deco pearly gates etched into a flat limestone tablet looming mutely above the Orange Street sidewalk.

The building is the work of Henry Y. Shaub, a Lancaster native whose other notable contributions include the Posey Ironworks (1910, 1916), Shaub’s Shoes (1929), and McCaskey High School (1938).

Strawbelly Hill_detail_2toneLBC

The first in a series of portraits of landmark Lancaster architecture, well-known or not….

The Strawberry Hill Grocery, aka Mamta Grocery Store, stands sentinel at the crest of Strawberry Street before its long plunge down Cabbage Hill towards the old Conestoga Steam Mills.  It is an especially exhuberant example of that most enduring of neighborhood institutions– the corner grocery.  Built in the mid-1890s as an odd Chateauesque flourish anchoring a ten-unit rowhouse development, the corner has remained a grocery of one sort or another ever since.  The widow Catharine St. Clair kept a store here in 1899, as did three generations of the Stauffer family (though not of the Stauffer’s of Kissel Hill fame) in the waxing twentieth century.  The ensuing years brought a formstone skin and asphalt shingles, though its slate-roofed turret survives unscathed.  Now tattooed with ads for cigarettes and iced tea, Coca-Cola and ice cream bars, the building nevertheless maintains a perseverant dignity.  Today’s storekeepers are Indian immigrants (Mamta, I am told, means “motherly love”) who bemoan their long days behind the counter surrounded by Cheetoes, Newports and Slim Jims, and who stoically keep a small bin of fresh vegetables for sale.  They report that they are strict vegetarians (no meat, no chicken, no candy) who want more time to cook and to sleep.

Name: Strawberry Hill Grocery

Address: 100-102 West Strawberry Street

Built: c. 1895

Architect: Unknown