Lancaster YWCA 2019

Cast-stone steps and a balustrade curve up toward the East Orange Street entrance of Lancaster's YWCA. It was designed in 1915 by Lancaster's Henry Y. Shaub and Harry Estep of Pittsburgh. 

All architects wait for the “big one,” the opportunity to showcase their talent and accelerate their careers. For C. Emlen Urban, it was Lancaster’s Southern Market in 1888 at the age of 25; for Henry Y. Shaub, it was the Lancaster YWCA in 1915 at the age of 28.

Both commissions were sizable, highly visible and subject to public scrutiny. Not surprisingly, both of these talented architects came out on top.

Urban took advantage of his family connections to the Southern Market Building Selection Committee to help secure his first breakout commission. Shaub, on the other hand, had to employ another tactic to secure his noteworthy and highly sought-after commission. His strategy was collaboration with an out-of-town expert for a design competition. Shaub invited an experienced and accomplished Pittsburgh architect, Harry S. Estep, to join him in submitting a design for the Lancaster YWCA. It would be only the fourth free-standing facility of its kind in the United States, and this nationally advertised competition drew interest from East Coast and Midwestern architectural firms.

The YWCA’s proposed location required a solution that would complement the surrounding residential neighborhood’s architecture, and that would be pleasant to look at from its two primary exposures: North Lime Street and East Orange Street.

The Shaub/Estep team chose a style rooted in American tradition and history — Colonial Revival. The 1876 Centennial International Exhibition, held in Philadelphia, had sparked renewed interest in our country’s past architectural heritage. This renewed interest, and the Colonial Revival architecture that resulted, would remain highly popular for another 80 years.

With broad porches, impressive front doors, gabled roofs, fluted Tuscan columns, elaborate dormers, double-hung windows with keystones, Flemish bond brick, fanlights, mutules, quoins and cast-stone balustrades, this three-and-a-half-story structure provided a familiar appearance and a welcoming presence on a busy street corner. The interior architecture offered a well-designed and well-appointed Colonial Revival experience, including a grand entrance hall and staircase, stained hardwood floors, paneled walls and an impressive auditorium with a stage to accommodate several hundred guests.

The success of Shaub’s first major commission set the stage for a long and successful career that would span 58 years and include hundreds of commissions in dozens of building types and design styles.

What is the difference between Colonial Revival and Georgian Revival architecture?

The two styles are very similar and difficult to distinguish. Colonial Revival designs tend to have larger porches and more elaborate front doors, including sidelights and fan transoms.

What is a mutule?

A mutule, pronounced like the word “mutual,” is the decorative flat block that projects out below the cornice of a roof. The mutules often have a pattern of projecting pegs reminiscent of domino blocks.

How has the YWCA building changed since 1918?

The exterior has remained intact since its completion in 1918 with the exception of the stair and elevator tower added along the Lime Street elevation. The balance of the structure appears much as it did over 100 ago.

Up next: Shaub explores and excels at a design style that Urban chose to avoid.

  • This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. Email

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