Restored mansion finds new owners
Historic home built by founder of South Whitehall village
In 1905, the founder of the fledgling Greenawalds village built his stately five-bedroom home, with custom-cast concrete exterior and natural oak interior, at an intersection of two main roads, where passersby had full view of its wraparound veranda and decorative columns.
It became the talk of the young town. Locals then, as now, called it unofficially the “Greenawalds mansion.”
But for those who’ve lived there, it was more than that.
“We never considered it a ‘mansion,’ ” said Bob Schantz, its owner of 36 years. “It’s our home.”
But last week he and his wife, Cheryl, handed the keys to their historic South Whitehall Township home to someone else.
The Schantzes have opened their home to a family member here and there; at one stretch to a young friend they considered their “adopted” daughter; to renters occupying the thirdfloor apartment; and to the scores of descendants of Aaron and Sarah Greenawald who come for family reunions or still live in the village.
Geri Yarnall, a Greenawald granddaughter who lived in the home for the first 7½ years of her life, paid visits over the years the Schantzes owned it. She told them memories of Christmastime gatherings of more than 50 family and friends, of playing elevator in the front-door vestibule and of stealing away to her grandfather’s study to treat herself to chocolates in his desk drawer.
“He always had treats for everybody,” said Yarnall, now 97. “I don’t think he ate them, but he always had them.”
Aaron and Sarah Greenawald moved to the area in the 1880s and bought three tracts of farmland, according to a history UCC Greenawalds historian Robert Moser wrote for the church. The Allentown-to-Slatington Trolley Line, built in 1900 to service the slate industry, ran right through their land.
After building his house, Aaron Greenawald built other landmarks along the trolley line, such as the former Lawfers
Store, now the Serfass Construction office, and the former Lodge Hall on the corner of Whitehall and Focht avenues. His family helped pay for several township institutions, like the church, and the family’s old barn housed the first fire engine for the Greenawalds Fire Company.
Many of the homes in the village were developed under his guidance, according to his obituary in a Feb. 25, 1950, edition of The Morning Call. The community legally took his name shortly before World War I.
Yarnall never knew many of these details — of her grandfather’s significance to the village or of her childhood home’s stature as its first real building. Her grandparents, she said, were devout Christians who didn’t display it.
“Grammy and grandpa were not braggers,” she said. “This is not in the Bible.”
The Schantzes, nonetheless, embraced the home’s history, curating their home over time with antiques and Arts and Crafts furniture with modern appeal from auctions here and flea markets there.
“Many times we’d come back from vacations in Florida with a carload,” Bob said.
“Our dates were going to auctions,” Cheryl added.
The work on the more than 100-year-old home was near constant over the years, and the end result nearly unrecognizable — on the inside — from what they bought in 1983.
But Bob, five years into retirement from a 30-year career as an art teacher for Bethlehem Area School District and as Chump the Clown on the side, and Cheryl, six years into retirement as a nurse at Cedarbrook nursing home, could use fewer projects.
“It’s hard to let go,” Cheryl said. “But I’m ready to move on to our new chapter.”
They are moving to a 55-plus community in Lower Macungie Township, but not before finding the right person to care for what was once simply a dream home for them.
That person is Lou Fernandez, a retired New York City police officer who moved to the township in 2016 and works part time for the Lehigh County sheriff ’s office.
Driving to the house he first moved into, right behind UCC Greenawalds, he often passed the Albright Avenue home.
“I said to my wife, ‘One day I’ll be able to buy that house,’” Fernandez said. “She would just laugh.”
Four decades ago, Bob and Cheryl Schantz had a similar exchange.
In 1976, the Schantzes were newly engaged and among those locals who admired the home from afar.
As members of South Whitehall Township’s history committee, they perhaps cared more than the average person. During the township’s bicentennial, they took a bus tour that stopped at the home, where the grandson of Aaron Greenawald was passing out an old map of South Whitehall that included a picture of the house.
The home wasn’t available at the time. The Schantzes married in 1980 and bought a fixer-upper twin home in the township, where they had to tear out the floors and redo the bathrooms. They stopped short of rebuilding the kitchen when Bob drove by the Greenawalds home in 1983 and noticed it was for sale.
“So we said, ‘Stop everything,’” Bob said. “And then we bit the bullet.”
The Schantzes were shocked to find an asking price they could afford. The price — $69,000 — made more sense once they walked inside. The kitchen sink was rusted, the floors had to be replaced and the walls needed repainting.
“It really was a shamble when we looked at it,” Bob said. “But I saw the potential.”
The bones were strong, the roof in good condition, the original woodwork and stained glass windows mostly intact, and the exterior concrete casting resembling stone unlike anything one finds today, he said.
Bob fixed the walls, replaced the floors and light fixtures, and completely reimagined the landscaping.
He found a custom carpenter to replace the door — a muted pink when they found it — with an oak fit. He commissioned Neff-Chattoe, a stained glass studio in Allentown that made the Greenawalds’ original stained glass windows, to make a copy of one that had been damaged. The Schantzes added a three-car garage and over the years had professionals remodel the kitchen and bathrooms multiple times.
The house has always been a recognizable fixture in the neighborhood, even if onlookers don’t always know who lived there.
“As soon soon as someone mentioned the big house in South Whitehall in Greenawalds, I knew exactly which house they were talking about,” said Pat Spitzer, who the Schantzes eventually chose as their real estate agent after interviewing three others.
When the Schantzes bought the home, they filled a time capsule with pictures of what the early version of the home looked like, pieces of plasterboard from the old kitchen, old newspapers of the day and a cloisonne vase. They stashed it in the ceiling of an earlier iteration of the downstairs bathroom, intending for a future owner to discover.
Instead they took it down while remodeling three years ago. Now they are handing over to the new owners, along with the old map that began their journey.
Fernandez will move in soon with his wife, son and daughter. He said he intends for it to be his final home.
Bob and Cheryl Schantz considered the Greenawalds mansion their dream home when they bought it in 1983. Now the six-bedroom home on Albright Avenue, built by the village’s founder, has a new owner.
Many of the homes in the village in South Whitehall Township were built under founder Aaron Greenawald’s guidance.
Bob and Cheryl Schantz have embraced the history of the Greenawalds mansion, filling it with antiques.