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Why pay to strip homes in Y’town?

Published: Sun, July 12, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

By Bertram de Souza

At first glance, the city of Youngstown’s “deconstruction” program makes so much sense you wonder why it wasn’t initiated sooner.

The city hires a company, in this case U.S. Green Building Materials, to strip a vacant house literally brick-by-brick and then to sell the salvaged material. Given the age of many of the homes in Youngstown, there’s gold in the oak flooring, fixtures and even the stone.

Last month, U.S. Green Building deconstructed a 71-year-old house at 945 Brentwood Ave. that had been vacant for a long time. It took the Youngstown company longer to do this job than the one day it takes for traditional demolition because of the salvage and sale aspects.

But a closer look at what the deconstruction of the house on Brentwood Avenue entailed showed that city government paid the company $4,400 — $2,000 more than normal demolition. In addition, U.S. Green got to keep whatever it removed. It obviously intended to sell the material.

Thus the question: Why would the city pay a company to strip a house when there are a whole lot of Youngstown residents who have proven to be quite adept at deconstruction?

Many stories

The Vindicator’s news archives are replete with stories of structures in the city being denuded by individuals who are part of a cottage industry of sorts.

Here’s one item that’s particularly revealing.

On the North Side, a vacant two-story, tan brick house built in 1920 was targeted not once but three times by thieves who obviously knew their way around unoccupied structures.

They made off with a stained glass window that adorned a formal dining room, a six-foot mantel and the side columns, oak doors, brass doorknobs, stained- and leaded-glass windows, chandeliers, sconces and much more.

“These people know what they’re doing,” said the owner of the property.

Just to add a little spice to the story: Police arrested three men after they stopped their car in the city because there were three fireplace mantels tied to the roof.

Then there is the case of the 107-year-old historic mansion with a view of Lake Cohasset that was vandalized and nearly destroyed by fire.

Thieves kicked in a back door and ripped out copper pipes. They also removed vintage d cor, such as French doors and leaded-glass library doors.

Drive through just about any part of the city and you’ll find a house that has been preyed upon by the instant strippers who are so good at what they do, it’s a here today, gone tomorrow proposition.

Woodwork, aluminum siding, copper pipes, furnaces, hot water tanks, you name it they take it.

Thus the question: Why would city government pay $4,000 to a company to deconstruct a house when all it has to do is to put out the word that it is interested in signing up individuals who would be willing to strip houses and other structures — for a price.

Yes, the city could make some money by selling the deconstruction rights to the highest bidder. After all, the strippers get to keep all the stuff they salvage.

This region’s history of stripping isn’t just confined to homes and the once famous burlesque houses. (At one time, one of the more famous girlie joints was owned by two brothers from Canada.)

In the heyday of the Mafia, the Valley boasted some of the best chop shops in the country.

The movie “Gone In 60 Seconds” — it starred Nicolas Cage — while not about the Valley provides an inside look at what went on in those shops.

‘Major’ operation

There was one in particular on the city’s South Side that police called a “major” operation, and they weren’t exaggerating. The front was a car dealership. The investigation began after a driver was cited for a stop sign violation; a check of his license plates showed they were illegal.

Arrests were made.

Chopping up cars and trucks was such a lucrative business it even became a family affair in some instances. Old — or not so old — timers will recall the operation in Farmington Township in which a father and his son were arrested.

The bottom line is that there is a lot of expertise still out there for stripping things down to the bare essentials. All Youngstown city government has to do is tap into this valuable resource — and make some money in the bargain.

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