Artists lose longtime space at Ward Bakery in Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN — The dozen or so artists who rented space at the Ward Bakery building — some for decades — said their final goodbyes to the location after being evicted as part of a decision by new owners.

“It’s bittersweet; it’s the end of an era,” said Gabriel Crish, a photographer who has rented space at the lower West Side building for the past 25 years. “There’s a lot of history here.”

Crish said he’s going to put much of his photography equipment in the attic of his Liberty home, but was definitely going to downsize.

With “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone playing in his studio on Monday, the final day for the arts tenants, Crish said of the eviction and move: “It’s physically exhausting and emotionally daunting. I’m at the point where I don’t want to pack things up to move them to storage to do this again.”

Crish decided to leave some stuff behind.

The Ward Bakery tenants were informed in an April 8 letter that they had until Monday to get out of the building at 1024 Mahoning Ave. because new owners were evicting them.

However, as of Monday, Ward Riverworks LLC, operated by Tamara and James Deeley, are still listed on the Mahoning County auditor’s website as the owner of the 101-year-old building. Ward Riverworks purchased the property for $220,000 on July 14, 2016.

The Deeleys didn’t respond Monday to requests to comment.

It is believed the Ward Bakery building will be storage space. There is a storage facility across the street from the Ward Bakery at the former Islay’s dairy, which stopped making ice cream there in 1969. That was vacant until 1987 when U-Haul opened a storage space and truck rental business.

In an April 8 letter to tenants, the Deeleys wrote: “We know how difficult this will be and therefore have made arrangements with the buyer to allow tenants until June 10 to vacate the premises. As of June 10, the building will close and any remaining items will become the property of the new owner.”

They added: “When we purchased the building eight years ago the plan was to work hard to maintain and improve this facility. Unfortunately, due to the events of the last year and the upgrades required, the continued maintenance has become more than we can manage.”

In July 2023, the Deeleys told The Vindicator that the building could be in danger of closing because of costly upgrades, particularly to the building’s fire sprinkler system.

Tamara Deeley said last year that she and her husband bought the building “as is.”

She said at the time: “Shame on us for not doing more due diligence. But you don’t know what you don’t know. My husband had been a tenant in that building for 33 years at that point. He knew the previous owner. When the previous owner told him, ‘Everything’s good. Here’s the tags because I had it inspected.’ We thought it was good.”

A city fire department inspection on May 26, 2023, turned up 29 violations.

Those issues included the need to replace sprinklers, electrical wiring violations, exposed wiring and other “hazardous electrical conditions,” improper installation of fire extinguishers, obstructed exits, lack of a certificate of occupancy, lack of signs for exits and other “unsafe conditions.”

The most expensive repair at the time was the sprinkler system, which includes switching every pipe in the building from ¾ of an inch to 1 inch. That alone was going to cost about $212,000, Tamara Deeley said in July.

The 101-year-old building was originally the Ward Bakery that closed in the 1960s. For about the past 50 years, it has been used as rental space for various artists and opened up a few times a year to the public for artists to sell their wares though it hasn’t had an open house since 2022.

Bill Barron of Youngstown, a tenant in the building for 31 years, said Monday as he packed up his stuff: “It would have been nice if we had more time. It would have given us more time to thoroughly plan this out.”

Barron is a painter, photographer, collagist and sculptor who said he moved his studio from Ward Bakery to the boiler room of his house on the city’s North Side.

“I’ll continue my work,” he said. “We’ll all find a way to continue. We’re visual artists. We always find a way to produce work.”

Barron said of the building, “It was real special because it was conducive to produce work on a large scale, it’s a great space for art and the rent was reasonable. Some of us will feel a sense of grief after we’re done.”

Tony Armeni of Youngstown, a metal sculptor who rented space at the building since 1996, said, “It’s been very difficult for people. They have a bunch of stuff there and are making hard choices on what to take and what to leave behind.”

He added: “We’re all friends there. We’re going to miss seeing one another. It’s a real loss for the community.”

LOOP Youngstown — an initiative to develop an arts and culture center in the area — is looking at a couple of buildings in downtown Struthers for its home, Armeni said.

The Ward Bakery closing, he said, “is a setback, but hopefully it’s not a major one.”

Armeni found space at a Glenwood Avenue building.

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick.


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