The building at 220 N. Prince St. has served as a car dealership, as a camera shop, and as a lock, key and safe store. Over the past year or so, developer Gary Neff and wife Marsha have transformed part of the building into its next life: Their home.
Most of the ground floor, which dates to the 1870s, is destined to become The Double C, a restaurant project of Sean Cavanaugh and Michael Carson. The business partners also operate John J. Jeffries on Harrisburg Avenue. The building’s expansive third floor, which boasts space for a rooftop garden, is on the market for $365,000.
But it’s the middle floor — a wide-open 3,800 square feet or so — which has become home to the Neffs. After nearly 40 years living outside the city, the couple have made the move to the city.
“I brought my wife in,” Gary Neff grins, “and she didn’t say no” to the move.
The wide-open space, Neff says, gave the couple a blank slate to make it their own. And changes that had to be made, he adds, gave them the raw materials needed to make necessary changes.
Floor joists and other massive wood salvaged during renovations have become stair treads and landings, their rough edges adding grit. Wood trim has been rescued from some parts of the building to be reused in others. An old Victorian-era door now closes off a powder room, and existing wood pillars were simply sandblasted to clean them off.
“We wanted to keep as much of the original industrial (appearance) as possible,” Neff says.
In the living room, one massive piece saved from the building is used to separate living space from Neff’s home office: A 400-pound metal door, stamped with “W.C. Co’s IC Standard Fire Door,” is suspended from original track and rollers. All he did to “restore” it, Neff says, “was get a 6-inch brush, the kind you attach to a drill, and some soapy water.”
When the Neffs bought the property about a year and a half ago, the building was a commercial landmark in downtown Lancaster. Sitting between the Chameleon Club and Pennsylvania College of Art & Design, it most recently had been used by Wizard Lock & Safe Co. — at one point, for some of the massive safes the company sells — and part of it was home to Coe Camera Shop. Wizard still is next door, at 218 N. Prince St., and Coe Camera, later Perfect Image, has since been consolidated into Perfect Image’s Fruitville Pike location.
As hard as the Neffs have worked to preserve the building’s interior, one relic of a century-old use — a huge elevator left over from its days as a auto dealership — is soon to be removed. That’s not because it doesn’t work: Neff knows the elevator still can support his car. But modern 21st-century building regulations would make it cost-prohibitive to bring it up to code — even though the elevator still lives up to the 1912 operation certificate tacked on its wall. Instead, a modern elevator has been installed, from the basement level, which includes five parking spaces, all the way up to the roof.
Working in such an old building has its share of challenges, says Neff, who operates City Limits Realty property management and who began selling real estate in the city in 1973. Modern plumbing and wiring had to be installed through extra-thick stone foundation walls in the basement; upstairs brick walls were cut through with electric chainsaws to create space for large windows.
“The biggest thing in (a project) like this is the infrastructure,” Neff says.
But the payoff? Details such as that car elevator. The freedom to create a space just off the living room that’s part indoors, part outside, leading onto a deck that overlooks Water Street. A stair tread that still has lead imbedded in it from a shooting gallery that operated on the site years ago.
And, says Neff, after four decades, a return to city living.