There’s an old saying that gets tossed around — “If these walls could talk.” Can you imagine what walls that have been around for more than 100 years would have to say?
Nathaniel Licht is listening to those walls, one piece of plaster at a time.
Just this week, Licht got the keys to a big part of Titusville history located at the corner of West Spring and South Washington streets. He purchased the old YMCA building. The YMCA of Titusville was built in 1912.
On day one of having those keys in his hand, he started to uncover unknown treasures like a fireplace and giant buttresses hidden under lowered ceilings.
“It’s so cool to find what’s hidden under all that was covered up in the 70s,” Licht said as he roamed from the pool up to the top floor. “My goal is to erase the 70’s and get back to as close to what the building was originally.”
John McGinnis, engineer and president of Tartan Health and Safety Consulting in Titusville, confirmed for Licht what he was hoping to hear on Wednesday. “This place is solid as a rock,” he told Licht, who added that the building has a steel frame, “just like a skyscraper.”
Licht plans on starting with the first floor space to create a commercial and mixed use space. Walls and counters will probably disappear as space opens up for potential retail shops.
The room that still has basketball hoops at each end will become the Parkside Ballroom, Licht said. The hoops will be taken down, the floors will be refinished and he had already ordered a chandelier. The natural light that streams down from the arched window above brightens the space naturally during the day.
The windows on the wall along the side of the former gymnasium were once covered for protection. “Those will all be opened back up,” Licht said.
The middle of the gymnasium floor has buckled a bit. “That’s what happens when you turn the heat off and close up a building for six years,” he said. But the floor is staying and will be refinished.
A jaunt up to the second floor led to what Licht plans to transform into apartment space. Again, Licht plans to preserve history with some of the original bathroom tiles and other features. Licht hopes the ample natural light and a view of the park may entice someone to call it home in the future.
Possibly the most fascinating feature, that will likely change in function, is on the lowest level of the building. Signs on opposing walls that designate the deep and shallow ends, still flank the former YMCA pool.
Licht’s voice echoed as he told some of the history of the still intact former swimming destination. He spoke of a time when people filled wagons and buckets to fill the pool. Licht attributes that method of pool-filling to the reason the building has its own well.
Licht realizes he has his work cut out for him and the transformation won’t happen overnight. He hopes the first floor retail space may open by this fall. The grand ballroom could be a couple years down the road.
He also doesn’t intend to seek grant money to fund the rehabilitation. “I want this to be a labor of love,” he said.
It could also have a little bit to do with fate or however you choose to describe things that just seem like they are “meant to be.”
His uncle has an interest in real estate.
“When I was about 10 years old he purchased the former YMCA in Alton, Illinois,” Licht said. “He did some rehabilitation work and resold the property. I have been having flashbacks of walking through that building as a kid in absolute awe.”
Drumm can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.