Urban still has an impact in Ephrata

By on October 12, 2016

Tour of historic places set for Oct. 2

Ephrata National Bank is one of three local C. Emlen Urban designs featured in the upcoming tour of historic places. Photo courtesy of Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley.

Ephrata National Bank is one of three local C. Emlen Urban designs featured in the upcoming tour of historic places. Photo courtesy of Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley.

When you drive through the Borough of Ephrata, you will see buildings that were designed by C. Emlen Urban. Three of those properties will be highlighted Saturday, Oct. 22, as part of the biennial tour of the Historic Preservation Trust (HPT) of Lancaster County.

The first is the Ephrata National Bank building, where an artifact connected to Urban and Ephrata will be revealed for the first time, but only to those on the tour. The second is currently Highland Elementary School and was the former Ephrata Junior-Senior High School. The third is the office building on the corner of Main and Lake streets across from the Ephrata Post Office.

In addition, the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley was chosen for the HPT Urban Award for its expansion and renovation work at the West Main Street property in 2009.

Those three and 27 other historic sites can be seen from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. The $25 price of admission ($20 for 60+ seniors and students; 12 and under are free) includes a first-ever color 40-page tour guide and the reveal of two unique Urban artifacts.

Urban (1863-1939) was best known for dozens of architectural designs in Lancaster City, including the Greist Building, Southern Market, the former Watt & Shand building and the South Queen Street home of Milton Hershey. Hershey used Urban as his primary architect for many years in the early development of Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Nick Leitner, 90, is a 1944 graduate of the Hershey Industrial School (now Milton Hershey School District) and was in seventh grade when Urban died.

“I wish I had been old enough to know him,” reminisced Leitner in a recent phone interview. “As Hershey grew, everyone knew he was Mr. Hershey’s architect.”

Many of Urban’s designs were critical to the needs of the community and centered at the intersection of Route 422 (Chocolate Avenue) and Cocoa Avenue.

“I wasn’t old enough to appreciate that,” added Leitner. “When you looked at the Urban buildings, you saw Mr. Hershey’s love for beautiful architecture. That may have come about because Mr. and Mrs. Hershey took many trips to Europe.”

The beauty of the buildings also housed their functionality, particularly the Community Building on that same square.

“It housed the Hershey Theatre, the ‘Little Theatre,’ the public library, a spectacular dining room, an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley,” described Leitner. “All of the gathering needs of the community.”

The community building later housed Hershey Junior College (one of the first in the state), the original WITF (public television) studios and a hospital, again designed to take care of the area’s needs.

A second building, across the square, catered to many additional resident needs.

“It housed Hershey Telephone Company, Hershey Transportation and the Transit Street Trolley,” noted Leitner. “It also housed the famous Oyster Bar, a news stand, barbershop and three floors of rental space.”

“Even the smaller buildings were beautiful,” noted Leitner. “The Hershey Department Store, the markets, the movie theatre (5 cent movies) and the Women’s Club were all intended for the social structure of the town. They were pretty, but functional commercial buildings. Even by the 1940’s, Hershey was not a very big town.”

Leitner was joined by Urban successor (and one-time employer) D. Paul Witmer to witness the demolition of that second building in the 1960’s.

“It was almost criminal to see it come down,” said Leitner, adding a curse aimed at those who made the decision. “I saw D. Paul cry. They replaced it with an ugly one story building that only lasted 15 years.”

“The initial people that Milton Hershey put into place knew what he wanted,” said Leitner. “But the next generation was not trained to continue his plan.”

The main Urban buildings that remain standing in Hershey are the Community Building, the bank and the office wing of Hershey Foods. His style and skill will be witnessed in Ephrata Oct. 22.

Tickets are available from the HPT by calling 291-5861 or online at hptrust.org. They are also available the day of the event at the Ephrata Cloister located at 632 West Main St., which is the first stop on the tour.

The “Celebrate Ephrata” Tour includes, but is not limited to, the Connell Mansion (Historic Society), 1777 Inn (Bed and Breakfast), Ephrata National Bank (Urban design), Sprecher Building, Kimmel House (B & B), Mentzer Building, Highland Elementary (Urban), Lincoln House, 121 East Main St. (Urban), Historic Smithton (B & B) and Ephrata Railroad Station (Chamber of Commerce).

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