April 23, 2014

[Retro Roadmap] The Haines Shoe House in Hallam, Pa.

  • By: Beth Lennon

Prior to the creation of Route 30, the Shoe House was surrounded on all sides by farmland.

You’re driving along Route 30 where the road opens up into a highway halfway between the hustle and bustle of the commercial corridors of Lancaster and York, Pa. The road is flanked by farms and fields on both sides, but suddenly you spy an oddly shaped building quickly coming into view.

You do a double take because you can’t believe what you’re seeing and immediately take the next exit. Following the old Lincoln Highway to the appropriately named Shoe House Road, you’ve just been lured away from your original destination by a local landmark and example of programmatic architecture -- Haines Shoe House in Hallam, Pa.

Programmatic architecture, also known as mimetic or novelty architecture, is a form of dramatic roadside advertising. Instead of a standard box-shaped building with a sign on it, these unique buildings were designed and built to look like what would typically be sold within. Think coffeepot-shaped coffee shops, cone-shaped ice cream stands and the likes. Popular in the early 20th century, these buildings were made to stand out from the crowd and create enough curiosity to entice customers off of the roads and into the business.

Today the shoe house is a destination for retro roadtrip lovers from all across the U.S.

Delighting passing motorists and locals, the Haines Shoe House has been a York County landmark since it was built in 1948. The building was the brainchild of local shoe store owner and self-proclaimed “Shoe Wizard” Mahlon N. Haines. Contrary to what you would think, footwear was never sold from this shoe shaped structure; it was used instead as a giant advertisement for his stores as well as a place for him to share his good fortune with others.

Legend has it that Haines handed one of his best-selling shoes -- the classic high topped work shoe -- to an architect and said, “Build me a house like this.”

The shoe is constructed with cement stucco covering wire lath over a wooden frame. Each window is adorned with a leaded glass example of Haines’ shoes, and Haines keeps watch over visitors from the multicolored glass window in the entrance that shows his likeness.

Credit: Michael G. Stewart
Most everything at the Shoe House is adorned with the shoe motif, including the windows.

Upon first glance, it's hard to believe that the shoe contains three bedrooms, two indoor bathrooms (an extravagance at the time it was constructed) and an eat-in kitchen. But once inside, it's quite cozy -- or cramped depending on your size. At 17 feet wide, 48 feet long, and 25 feet high, not one bit of space in the shoe goes unused, with various storage nooks and crannies under the laces and in the heel.

Before insurance regulations put the kibosh on the practice, one could climb to the top of the shoe for a spectacular view.

Haines never lived in the shoe himself, but rather would invite elderly couples celebrating their wedding anniversaries and newlyweds living in towns that had a Haines Shoe Store to spend a week in the Shoe -- free of charge, complete with maid, butler, and chauffeur service.

After their stay, the couples would leave with a set of new clothes, which included a new pair of shoes. While the couples had a wonderful weekend to remember, the promotion and the building always kept Haines Shoe stores fresh in the public’s mind.

Now everyone can enjoy The Shoe House, which is open to the public during the warmer months.

Upon Haines' death in 1962, the house was left to the employees, and since that time it has had only four owners. Carleen Farabaugh and her husband Ronald have just had their 10-year anniversary of owning the shoe, and to celebrate, they shined it up with a new coat of paint.

While they have occasionally spent the night in the shoe, most of their time is spent renovating and maintaining the historic structure. In the warmer months, they open the building to the public and give guided tours, selling ice cream and souvenirs from the space under the heel.

While his shoe stores have faded from memory, The Shoe House has become Haines’ legacy in the minds of people who stayed there and those of us who just visit for the afternoon.

Visit Haines Shoe House

197 Shoe House Rd
Hallam, PA 17406
717-840-8339 (Call for schedule or for large groups)

Each year, America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.

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