York’s historic City Market, demolished 60 years ago, rises again in artist’s work (2024)

Jim McClure| York Daily Record

York’s historic City Market, demolished 60 years ago, rises again in artist’s work (1)

York’s historic City Market, demolished 60 years ago, rises again in artist’s work (2)

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Historians say the long-gone York City Market is perhaps the most magnificent building ever constructed in York County.

“Photographs record the grandeur of the exterior, with its vast patterned Peach Bottom slate roof and 95 foot tower inspired by the Florentine Palazzo Vecchio,” historian June Burk Lloyd wrote in 2010. “Beautiful soaring interior Gothic arches were reportedly constructed by Baltimore ship builders.”

But magnificence does not equate to permanence.

Competition from the suburbs and erosion of city population and retailing caused a decline in number of customers and stand holders at City Market, and the possibility of a sale emerged as early as 1953.

A proposal to build a Gulf service station came before the city Zoning Hearing Board a decade later. The board, noting that the building was dilapidated, issued an exception for the gas station and that spelled the end this money-losing architectural prize.

The building and its tower came down, the service station went up and most of the half-block lot occupied by the once-thriving market at South Duke and East Princess is vacant today. The automobile that fueled the market’s competition in nearby townships and scraped up agricultural land for suburban residences also contributed to the market’s demise. The gas station serviced those vehicles, taking over part of its footprint.

Market rises, virtually

About 60 years later, City Market has returned — in a virtual and colorful fashion.

Blake Gifford is an architect who uses the tools of an artist as he is seated behind his computer and at his drafting table. And his art benefits from his architectural mind.

He rendered a 3D version of the City Market and posted it online, giving York County and the world a view of this grand place that came from the heart, hands and mind of another architect, York’s John Dempwolf, in the late 1870s.

Gifford’s City Market work comes on the heels of his series of intricately detailed drawings of landmark York buildings and a third project that illustrated some of York’s “phantom places” or “building ghosts.” These latter drawings show demolished structures in current settings, illustrating how a neighborhood would look and feel different and better if the building was standing today.

How does Gifford do this work with such precision? He starts with digging into historical drawings and photographs and adds Google Streetview images and his own site surveys and sketches.

He explains his creation process after that:

“From there, for hand-drawings, I’ll begin ‘constructing’ the picture on my drafting table with a straightedge, applying light pencil lines that I’ll later erase. Softer, darker pencils are used to further define the building form and add details. Over these penciled reference lines, I can then layer over ink and colored pencil as needed to provide color, texture, and shadow. For 3D models (like City Market), the production process is surprisingly alike, albeit with dozens of individual tools on a computer instead of just pencil-in-hand.”

All this work resides on his website, yorkarchillustrated.com, and on his Facebook pages and Instagram.

He will transfer his art from the virtual world into framed art pieces at Gallery @ 227, on First Friday York, March 1. His exhibit will be on display at 227 W. Market St. from March through April. The reception will be open from 5 to 8 p.m.

More: York County creatives provide a vital arts element to community life

What motivates the artist?

Growing up in Houston in the 1990s, Gifford noticed sprawl was overtaking historic Texan structures.

“For a kid who loved to explore the remaining patches of old prairies or peer through the windows of a derelict farm shack that still sat around in the brush,” he said, “that meant constantly anticipating loss, and grief over that loss.”

After moving north to study architecture at Penn State, he’s worked in York for eight years.

“Living now in York, where the built environment that surrounds us is steeped in history,” he said, “my work is simply meant to be a series of ‘love letters’ to the place.”

Gifford’s work shows the depth of his exploration of York’s architecture, and he sees the city as a “living, breathing museum” that has dodged numerous historical “bullets.”

His view of York emerging from an intense study of its buildings is insightful:

“Its story is one of dramatic highs and lows, bouncing between periods of incredible historical significance to irrelevance, high desirability and booming population growth to abandonment and stigmatization. York has seemed to wither and bloom in cycles, and in so many cases, these dramatic cycles have actually benefitted the long-term quality and character of its architecture. While these collections of old buildings and sites do need regular funding, maintenance, and upkeep, the sheer quantity of existing built historic material in York is beyond any one city I’ve ever come across. York’s architectural collection spans multiple eras, exemplifies dozens of individual design styles and construction techniques, and contains thousands of unique stories within the walls. It is singular, even in a region filled to the brim with fascinating history.”

More: Creatives & recreationists: Galleries & outdoors replacing factory work

Losing a landmark

Not everyone was convinced that the market should have come down — or at least believed another market was needed to join Central and Farmers markets in the city. By 1963, Eastern Market had moved to Springettsbury Township, the New Eastern Market today. And the Carlisle Avenue Market was converted into a sewing factory before becoming DreamWrights Center for Community Arts.

Lloyd’s research shows that about three-quarters of its stand holders formed the New City Market, purchasing the former Food Fair at 606 S. George St. Interestingly, the new market was a former Nash auto dealership. Further, the cost for the acquisition of the building - Junior Achievement’s BizTown today - was between $35,000 and $55,000 and remodeling cost about $8,000.

If that investment had been made in City Market, it might be standing today. A revealing cost comparison showed that $20,000 could have fixed the City Market, and the estimated cost to tear it down was $17,000.

The New City Market operated until 1969, its end no doubt accelerated by the York race riots, their memory deterring some county residents from coming downtown to this day.

Another reluctant player in the building’s demolition was the market itself.

The market’s tower originally rose about 95 feet, but a lightning strike in 1913 took away about 15 feet. Its remaining 80 feet remained a significant York landmark — and proved to be as stubborn as its former stand holders.

In the market’s late-1963 demolition, a plan was hatched for a clam bucket at the end of an 87-foot crane to gradually knock pieces inside the tower. But the bucket caught a wooden beam and tilted the entire top section, dropping it into Duke Street with a crash, somehow missing the workers below. After the dust had cleared, the damage was assessed. The flying tower took out power lines, broke a utility pole, bent some parking meters and disrupted traffic signals.

It was one last protest against a bad idea. Other bad ideas played out in those days. The neighboring Dempwolf-designed York Collegiate Institute, Children’s Home of York, York Academy and Helb’s Keystone Brewery, among many others, came down usually for parking or other uses to serve the automotive culture.

But now Blake Gifford has come up with a good idea — the best idea possible — in the form of digital re-creations. This artwork gives a sense of what is lost — eroding quality of life and sense of place — when landmarks come down.

Preservation of historic structures drives Gifford in his digital re-creations.

“I want to not only inspire others to love York,” he said, “but to protect it.”

Sources: June Burke Lloyd’s Universal York blog at the YDR’s Yorkblog.com, YDR files

Jim McClure is a retired editor of the York Daily Record and has authored or co-authored nine books on York County history. Reach him at jimmcclure21@outlook.com.

York’s historic City Market, demolished 60 years ago, rises again in artist’s work (2024)


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