Folklore galore, a string of historic homes in Harrisburg has fueled imagination for nearly a century. Now the 'Manor Street Mansions' will be sold at auction. Dozens toured the homes during an open house Tuesday.
For as long as Joe Stauffer could remember, he's passed North Front Street and gazed his eyes upon three houses he considered his own dream homes.
"I would drive by Front Street on my way home and admire these several homes and think, it would be nice someday to buy one," he said.
The chance has come to own a piece of Harrisburg history at presumably way below market value. Three homes sit on four lots along North Front Street: 1901, 1905, 1909 and 1917. The two acres of real estate facing the river are owned by Mary Knackstedt.
The interior designer still operates 'Mary K Interior Designs' from the corner property closest to Division Street. Knackstedt bought the other two properties in November 2004, but both have been vacant in recent years. Having little or no bites on the market and more than $220,000 owed in delinquent taxes, Knackstedt said she has decided its time to go the auction route.
"As much as I believe in history and loved tradition and all of that, I also believe that we owe it to our population to create a city that has a future."
Dozens toured the homes Tuesday during an open house run by Jennings Auction Group, hired to handle the sale. Catching a glimpse of the future was disheartening for some. The middle property, 1909/1905, has an inviting red front door...rusted shut. This home is the oldest of the three, built in 1916. One step inside the first floor, you are immediately punched in the face with the stench of mold and mildew from water damage.
The plaster walls are peeling, the wooden floors are rotted and there are holes in ceilings. One contractor said the bones looks good, but renovating the home could take hundreds of thousands of dollars.
An mid-70s attachment on the back still boasts a neat city feature: an indoor pool. Green goop piled in the brown water is a shell what must have been a trademark of this mansion.
The corner property closest to Manor Street, 1901, is also inhabitable. However this home is in much better shape than the middle property. Built in 1920, the home features a two-car garage and carriage house. Inside, the floor plan is still laid out to accommodate an office. Turning this property back to a residential would take much renovations.
"They look great on the outside," said Stauffer. "Unfortunately there's significant damage on the interior, and it would require an obscene amount of money to repair them."
Knackstedt's office is anchored in home built in 1925 and has been furnished and kept for quite some time. There would be needed upgrades, but nothing compared to the other properties on the block.
During the time Mayor Steve Reed was in office and household names like Linda Thompson, Dan Miller, and Patty Kim were still on City Council, Knackstedt proposed to knock down the homes to build luxury condominiums. Her idea was met with much opposition from area residents, city government and historic organizations who wanted Knackstedt to preserve the homes instead.
Zoning was not approved and preservation won, sort of. Stauffer said hindsight is clear now. He said Knackstedt should have been allowed to progress the community, expand the tax base, and utilize the property as an attraction. Instead, the homes have been rendered useless in recent years.
Jennings Auction Group said they will hold a live auction on Thursday, April 17 that will begin at 1 p.m. There is a packet of legal stipulations involved, but the properties will be sold without a reserve. Any combination of the four lots could be accepted in the sale.
Knackstedt is not putting any requirements on the property's use; the buyer has final say (pending city zoning approval). Her only hope is the person who purchases any or all of the lots would fulfill her dream and advance Harrisburg for the better.
"I hope the new developer does a leading project that gives Harrisburg an opportunity of being its best."