Calvin Center Owner Puts Her Heart into Restoring Building

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Erin Timms’ background as an urban archeologist and preservationist serves her well in her current project: restoring the 140-year-old Calvin Center building.

Timms purchased the former school building at 755 Mahoning Ave. in 2018 from the estate of her late brother, Sean, and has continued to run it as a community center and a place for artists and athletes.

Her present tenants include Rust Belt Theater; Gallery 18  studio and art gallery; basketball leagues; a sports memorabilia dealer and an antiques dealer. 

There is also a community room with a kitchen that can be rented for receptions, meetings and photo shoots, as well as a space that offers free household goods and clothing for free to those who need it.

Timms, with the help of some contractors and volunteers, has been cleaning, painting and restoring the 23,000-square-foot building room by room for the past two years.

Currently, she is working on the commercial kitchen and a 3,000-square-foot room with a small stage on the third floor.

The Calvin Center

The top floor is well-suited to wedding receptions or other events for a couple hundred people. Timms expects to have heating and air conditioning, and new light fixtures, installed within a few months.

Although she’s doing renovations on a shoestring budget, progress at the Calvin Center is steady. Timms can be found there every day, overseeing work and doing a lot of it herself.

“For my brother, the building was more like a hobby,” she said. “He had another job, but I am fully committed to it. I have no other job. I am very much about making this work, as a sustainable and functional business.”

Fixing old houses with her late brother was a part of her life since she was a child and working on the Calvin Center has been therapeutic, Timms said. “It’s a bond I had with my brother,” she said.

Timms, who holds a master’s degree from Michigan Technological University, returned to her hometown in 2016, after her brother’s death. She had been living in Providence, R.I., where she worked in industrial archeology and preservation.

“It’s what I did for a living, restoring historic buildings,” she said. “[The Calvin Center project] is in my wheelhouse.”

Timms’ varied background also includes several years at North Star Steel in Youngstown; she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.

Local artist Monica Vega moved into a large room at Calvin Center last year, which she uses as a studio and gallery. She’s been pleased with the sunny space, a former classroom with tall windows, which she calls Gallery 18.

“I like the authenticity of the building,” Vega said. “Erin keeps that in place – the hardwood floors, the [exposed brick interior wall] – and she is very professional.”

Timms is devoted to healthful eating and cooking. Toward that end, she is rapidly renovating the building’s commercial kitchen, recently adding a hood over the ranges. Her ultimate goal is to use the kitchen to prepare food for a food cart business she intends to start, serving crepes. The kitchen could also be available to food industry startups.

When Timms first took on the project, she considered taking out a $350,000 loan to pay for the restoration. She thought better of it, however, and decided to do the work herself, bringing in contractors as needed. She’s also being helped by volunteers but “a lot of it has just been me showing up and doing the work,” she said.

The busiest part of the building is likely the 1950s-era addition that was built by the neighboring Hungarian Presbyterian Church that owned the building from the 1940s until 2010, when Timms’ brother bought it.

A basketball court/auditorium comprises the bulk of the addition; leagues use it seven days a week. The venue also hosts the occasional concert or theatrical event.

“The church bought this building in 1943, and that’s when it stopped being a city school,” Timms said. “It had plans to make it into a rectory and community center but none of that really happened.”

The church did complete renovations in the 1950s, which was the last time any modernization was done until Sean Timms purchased the building. A new roof was completed in 2017.

As a community-minded proprietor, Timms has allowed the basement, which has been restored, to be used as a  warehouse for household goods and food that is given to those in need.

Randy Younkins, a long-time community activist, runs the “free store,”  as he calls it. In the 1970s, Younkins started the Daybreak shelter for the city’s homeless, which is still in existence. For the Calvin Center store, he obtains items from donations and by other means, including “curb shopping.”

“I drive around on garbage nights looking to grab the good stuff,” Younkins said. “I look for anything I think poor people might need, household items.”

For now, Younkins will let social workers in to get items for their clients, but the opening of the store is on hold until the pandemic ends.

Younkins will accept no money from the needy for items, although he will accept donations of goods or money from the public or businesses. 

“The whole point is that it is free for people,” he said. “Some day, I hope to be able to include food. I give a lot of food away.”

Younkins said he has long known Timms and approached her to ask to use the space.

“She has a lot of the same values as I do,” he said.

To inquire about rentals at Calvin Center, contact Timms at ectimms7@gmail.com.

Pictured: Erin Timms, owner of Calvin Center, stands in the third-floor auditorium of the building at 755 Mahoning Ave., which is undergoing renovations.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.