There is a big white building in the center of town. It’s been there since the 1940s.
It was constructed to serve a number of purposes, including that of a public shelter, municipal office space, sporting event arena, a place for USO offerings, an entertainment venue, and more.
Once considered state of the art and a symbol of architectural beauty (according to newspaper accounts back in the day), it is now the subject of a community-wide conversation.
Of course, I’m talking about the York City Auditorium.
More than a million dollars will have to be poured into repairs to keep its usefulness, we are told. Many hold great sentimental value when it comes to this place which is really more than a building; it’s part of the historical fabric of this city.
Several questions have been asked: In order to fix the heating and air system, roof and windows, where would the money come from? And even if the money can be found, does the facility still hold enough purpose in the future to make it worth the effort?
I’m not even a native of York, but I’ve been here more than 20 years and I already hold a fondness for that location.
I’ve been a worker at many, many events at the auditorium (in my second profession, besides this one as a writer) and I’ve been in most nooks and crannies of that interesting building. I know there is a hidden bathroom behind the stage which is always available because not many people realize it’s there. I know which electrical outlet still works in the kitchen. I know how to operate the freight elevator and always marvel that it still runs like a top (at least I’ve never been caught in it). I know not to walk up and down the side steps to the stage because they are so narrow your chances of falling are great. I know there’s storage under the stage and there are so many little hidden hallways and miniscule rooms it can almost seem like a maze. I know the polished floor in the little dining room west of the kitchen is slick enough you can “skate” across the room in your socks. And I know it sounds like the building is almost breathing, when you are all alone and no one is talking.
In this profession, we at the YNT have covered so many different events at the auditorium, I can’t even list them all. I guess I could start to try: historical auctions, large funerals, banquets, graduations, school events, public hearings and open houses, elections, musical performances, the opening of the children’s museum, the discovery of war-time survival items, bloodmobiles, city council meetings and tours, chamber gatherings . . . and of course, many, many, many, many sporting events (especially the long-running Crossroads Conference tournaments).
Events still happen there, even though the convention center was built a number of years ago. But how long will that last, now that the heating and air system has gone caput? We’re told the roof might have another year on it, but then it is going to have to be replaced. And so will the windows.
The price tag is high.
But so is the value of the history of that place and the memories it holds.
There is also the question if sentimentality is enough reason to save it – does it still have usefulness?
I certainly believe it does. The numbers show people still value that building as a gathering place for all types of events, even though the convention center exists. Yes, many things take place at the convention center every single day . . . but I believe a lot of those events wouldn’t probably have even taken place in York if the convention center hadn’t existed. So that means there are still many, many community-based events that will still take place at the auditorium.
So if it does hold usefulness, how will this be paid for?
It appears that efforts are going to begin toward getting that building on the registry of historical places. That is a major starting point – quite frankly, I’m surprised it hadn’t been done before. After all, the Lincoln Avenue underpass (also a WPA project) is already on the registry – so why wouldn’t also the auditorium?
That designation will open the door for grant applications toward its preservation.
But what about the remaining funds? Where would they come from?
I remembered years ago when we at the YNT covered the extensive restoration project at the historical Fillmore County Courthouse. So I went back in our archives to see how the people of our neighboring county went about paying for that expensive endeavor.
From conception to completion, the project took about five years. The cost of the work was about $2.6 million.
Private citizens, who called themselves the “Friends of the Courthouse,” prompted the original bond issue and they gathered donations from county residents, as well as those who grew up there and moved away.
On April 9, 1997, the $1.25 million bond issue passed with an additional $500,000 allocated from the Fillmore County Inheritance Tax Fund. The rest of the money was donated by private citizens, businesses and groups.
The work was extensive – there were changes made to the jail and the sheriff’s department, the county courtroom was changed, new transom windows were installed. The entryways and floors were restored, the clock tower was completely restored (big job), many areas of the building (including all the walls and stairways) were either returned to their original wood or made fresh with new paint.
And on Sept. 29, 2001, the courthouse was rededicated. They took on that major labor of love and that amazing building is still standing in the center of Geneva.
Yes, the city doesn’t have an inheritance tax fund to dip into (as that is a county fund). Yes, the city has been trying to get its hands around newly-realized financial constraints. Yes, the $1.5 million or more it’s going to take to fix the auditorium is a big chunk of change.
But I believe this is a project worth pursuing and I applaud the city officials who are trying to find a solution by way of funding. I think it’s something private citizens should get behind also – we are all part of this town and responsible for its assets, not just those elected or hired to lead.
How many times have you said or heard statements of regret about the demolition of the old York County Courthouse?
I think it would be a shame to include the words of “city auditorium” in those “I wish” sentences, after it’s too late.