The former B&H Pizza Shop in Meshoppen (above) is slated for demolition as soon as CBDG grants totaling $68,000 are released to the borough by the Wyoming County Housing & Redevelopment Authority.
Photo and Story by Rick Hiduk
(As published in the Dec. 7 edition of the Rocket-Courier)
A building next to Meshoppen Creek that was occupied by B&H Pizza until 1994 will finally be torn down. CBDG funds facilitated by the Wyoming County Housing & Redevelopment Authority should be confirmed before the end of the year, enabling borough officials to award a contract to the company that will carefully remove the structure and secure the lot.
Ravaged by floods and fires since its construction, the building at 127 Bridge Street appears to be part of the Frances H. Kennard Public Library at the corner, but it only shares a brick facade that was most likely added after a fire gutted a restaurant there in 1953. That fire was so hot that safety deposit boxes in the First National Bank that preceded the library popped open. A fire wall between the two buildings did prevent damage to the bank’s vault.
Such is part of the history that Doug Walton of Walton Surveying of Laceyville was able to piece together last year as part of a Historic Resource Survey required of the borough for receipt of the CBDG demolition grant.
Walton admitted that compiling the report, which cost the borough about $3,000, was complicated because most of the records associated with the property were destroyed in the 2011 flood. In addition to library resources, the internet, local history books, and county deed and assessment records, Walton relied heavily on the memories of long-standing residents and relatives of the former owners.
A shoe shop stood on the property sometime between 1870 and 1928, when the bank bought the lot. After a brief stint as the Douglas Carter drug store, the present building was for many years a restaurant, owned consecutively by Dorothy Allen Kintner, Eve Allen, Frank and Jean Jayne, Merton Pero, and Rick and Lois Testa. From 1989 to 1994, Bob Hecht ran a pizza parlor there. An upstairs apartment was inhabited by a variety of families over the years.
The fact that the building was used into the mid 1990s is ironic, considering the fact that engineers declared it structurally compromised before 1978, when United Penn Bank conveyed the property to the borough. The bank, in fact, planned to demolish the building before vacating the property. According to Walton’s summary, however, the borough agreed to take it in its present condition with the promise that it would never be a bank again.
In 1999, the borough conveyed the former bank building to the Library with the agreement that, should the remaining structure ever be demolished, “the grantor…will stabilize and reinforce the shared party wall so it is structurally sound, at no cost to the grantee.” Finally, Walton concluded, “The building is of little significant history to the Borough of Meshoppen.” He also determined that the building “is beyond repair and could never be restored.”
That said, the borough solicited bids under the impression that the H&RA would release a $54,000 grant promised for its demolition. When Lycoming Supply of Williamsport came in with the low bid of approximately $44,000 in March 2017, the borough submitted the information to H&RA grants administrator Lisa Hahn. Despite the fact that the proposal was lower than the amount set aside since 2014 for the project, Hahn contends that H&RA no longer believed that the work could be done for that amount.
When asked about the delay at a Nov. 28 meeting of the Wyoming County Commissioners, Hahn said, “We are in the process of securing additional funds because the cost has gone up.”
Meshoppen Borough officials have maintained since summer that H&RA was not communicating the same message to them, and the project remained stalled. “We want to get it done,” borough council president John Bunnell said on Friday. “I want to keep the project moving forward.”
In response to an email from the Rocket-Courier on Monday, Hahn stated, “It has been estimated that an additional $14,000 would be needed at this time for the project. With borough approval, a budget modification will be presented at the Dec. 26 meeting of the Wyoming County Commissioners for this project. Further approval of this budget modification request would be required from the Pennsylvania Department of Community And Economic Development.”
Hahn also emailed a statement to the Meshoppen Borough Council, the members of which were scheduled to meet that evening. She added that the additional amount of $14,000 was an estimate from Milnes Engineering. The council agreed to submit a form to secure the additional funds, and Bunnell remains hopeful that, upon approval by the commissioners and the DCED, the money will be released in the spring and demolition can begin.
Photos taken by Douglas Walton clearly show the deterioration throughout the building, including subsidence and vegetation inside the structure.