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Campbell man envisions renovation on row homes

Staff photo / Ashley Fox An antiquated fridge is on display at one of the apartments on Chambers Street in Campbell, as Tim Sokoloff, a resident and leader of renovating the old mill housing, explains the history of the structure.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of Saturday profiles of area residents and their stories. To suggest a profile, contact features editor Burton Cole at bcole@ tribtoday.com or metro editor Marly Kosinski at mkosinski@tribtoday.com.

CAMPBELL — For Tim Sokoloff, home and work blend together.

For the last 13 years, he has lived in his home on Chambers Street in Campbell, part of row apartments that once housed employees of Youngstown Sheet and Tube.

“I moved out of a penthouse apartment with cable, satellite, my own personal office” among other amenities, he said, into an apartment with no running water.

“And that’s how it began,” Sokoloff said.

The company housing was built in 1917 and 1918 and was finished in 1920.

Sokoloff said the apartment buildings, located along and inside the perimeters of Delmar Street, Blackburn Street, Jackson Street and Robinson Street, were the first of their kind.

He explained they were the first prefabricated apartments in the world, bringing electric and running water to tenants.

Initially there were 248 units, but now there are 194, with 55 different owners.

Since he arrived, Sokoloff wasted no time in renovating what he can of the structures.

He’s most recently in the final stages of renovating the sole surviving archway of three, facing Robinson Street. When he and a few others can, Sokoloff works on other units, including clearing out decades’ worth of shrubs and trees.

On a sunny afternoon in early November, Sokoloff walked around the neighborhood, stopping evey so often to marvel at the history surrounding him. Sokoloff said some of the structures were completely hidden by trees and overgrowth. Roads were unpassable.

“This would be a great place to shoot a post-apocolyptic movie,” Sokoloff said, looking around at one row of apartments that are dilapitated and owned by out-of-state people.

Walking through the little community, some of the buildings are caving in or just sitting empty, waiting for a face-lift.

Others are freshly painted on the outside, reflecting the interior remodels. Grills and cars are situated outside some of the dwellings.

Sokoloff, 53, has been able to apply his previous work experience into the project.

He graduated from Struthers High School in 1985. Obtaining two associate degrees, one in electrical engineering and another in technology, Sokoloff also knows how to do other labor, like running gas lines properly, due to work in his early 20s.

In 1988, Sokoloff moved to a location on Robinson Road. While he was putting artwork on the wall, he discovered the structure was solid concrete.

That was when he knew he wanted to live somewhere built to endure big events.

“If times of chaos are coming, this is where I want to be,” Sokoloff said.

It was in 2007 when he made the move to what he calls his life’s calling — restoring this bit of history.

Campbell was always home to Sokoloff, although he lived in Youngstown until his family moved to Struthers when he was 8 years old.

He explained that he meshed well with the folks in Campbell, as he knew more kids growing up there than in Youngstown and Struthers.

That love of Campbell and these homes has continued to grow, and Sokoloff doesn’t imagine he’ll lose steam anytime soon.

With the support of the city of Campbell, Sokoloff said will continue his renovations until the city tells him to stop or until he “kicks the bucket.”

Some apartments are online for rent. Sokoloff is hopeful that several more tenants sign on by the end of the year, which will help generate revenue to keep the renovations going, he said.

“It’s a slow process when you’re doing one unit at a time,” Sokoloff said.

During his time at the row housing, Sokoloff has lost patience, but everytime he’s been discouraged, he said he has seen some sort of sign to stay.

He’s learned that the patience he sometimes loses is key.

“Stay your course and eventually you’ll find your way,” he said.

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