By EMMALEE C. TORISK
In just a few days, the Iron Soup Historical Preservation Co. will open its fourth fully restored unit to its new tenants.
Located at 56 Chambers St., the one-bedroom, two-story unit built by the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. isn’t much more than 600 square feet. It’s also nearing the one-century mark.
But as Tim Sokoloff, the preservation company’s president and chairman, explained, the 179 remaining concrete units in the six-acre complex of row houses are still as sturdy today as they were back in 1918 — despite years of damage caused by vagrants and vandals.
“This was the first modern apartment complex ever built on the planet,” Sokoloff said. “We want to make it more like it was when the mill workers were here. There used to be a waiting list to live here.”
“It used to be a beautiful place to live,” added Linda Gens, the preservation company’s executive director.
The units were built after a Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. strike, during which workers protested poor living conditions and wages.
In an effort to appease those workers, the company ensured that each unit came equipped with practically every modern convenience of the era: hot and cold running water, gas and electric.
At the time, most of these amenities were available only to the wealthy and elite — but were provided to the average Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. employee who lived in the complex.
The complex was also innovative in its construction. Pre-fabricated concrete slabs were assembled with cranes, marking one of the earliest uses of concrete for domestic architecture.
It’s simply a monumental site, Sokoloff said, which is why Iron Soup has made it its mission to preserve and revitalize the units and, to a greater extent, the neighborhood.
About 50 units are presently occupied, but demand is high. The preservation company hasn’t had any problem finding interested tenants since it began restoring and renting the Chambers Street units it owns a little more than a year ago.
Most one-bedroom units can be rented for about $300 per month.
“We are reinvesting every single penny that comes in, and throwing in a few dimes of our own,” Sokoloff said. “We want to put the units into the hands of those who want to do something.”
The units don’t require a great deal of labor or money to renovate — but it’s tough when “you’re a no-budget operation,” relying primarily on donated time and supplies, Sokoloff said.
Most can be fixed up in a little more than a month, and for less than $5,000.
But thanks to donations from area individuals and businesses, particularly Home Depot, the cost doesn’t often exceed $1,500.
At 56 Chambers St., for example, the unit still retained its electric and plumbing, along with fixtures including its bathtub and kitchen cabinets. Of Iron Soup’s units, it was the “closest one to get up and running,” Sokoloff said, and has taken about three weeks to restore.
As the number of rental units increases, so does revenue — along with Iron Soup’s ability to cover its expenses. And as Gens noted, the preservation company’s goal for 2013 was to become self-sustaining, which it now is.
Sokoloff and Gens, along with other board members, are hopeful that the preservation company will continue in that direction.
“It’s a big deal for us,” Gens said. “We are bringing the units out of blight and into tenancy.”
For more information about the Iron Soup Historical Preservation Co., which is headquartered at 40 Chambers St., and its mission, visit www.ironsoup.com.