Chris Bowen pushed open an old door to reveal walls bathed in sea green paint.

"The Weird Room, we call it," Bowen said, his eyes moving to the alien-looking hut stuffed inside.

For some reason, many years ago, someone got the brilliant idea to build four walls around the home's cellar doors and a roof above the staircase that descends below ground. It's just one of the many strange things Bowen and his partner, Virgil Brown, have found tucked into the mansion at 515 Linden Ave. in York City.

Eventually, the Weird Room will be transformed into the couple's pantry.

But, first, Bowen and Brown need to strip nearly 80 years' worth of shoddy craftsmanship from the 3,600-square-foot property.

Chris Bowen, left, and his partner Virgil Brown plan to restore the 1887 Victorian home at 515 Linden Ave. in York City to its former glory. The Lancaster
Chris Bowen, left, and his partner Virgil Brown plan to restore the 1887 Victorian home at 515 Linden Ave. in York City to its former glory. The Lancaster couple purchased the property for $83,500 and hope to make it their permanent residence. (Bil Bowden photo)
Built in 1887, the house was once a grand Victorian home built for the vice president of a farm-equipment manufacturing company known as Hench and Drumgold.

But, for most of its 125-year history, it has been home to tenants. For the past seven years, it's been vacant.

Brown and Bowen believe the house was divided into three apartments some time in the 1920s or 1930s. Walls were erected to separate living quarters, staircases were blocked to provide privacy and porches were closed in to create closet space.

The couple plans to restore 515 Linden Ave. to its former glory. They figure the work will take five or six years.

And, then, they'll live there with their two labradoodles.

"We have no intention of ever selling it," Bowen, 47, said. "This has been my dream house since I was a kid."

Bowen and Brown will do most of the renovation work themselves. But they'll call on electricians, plumbers and other experts to step in when their do-it-yourself knowledge isn't enough.

Already, they've begun knocking down walls and scraping layers of paper and paint from the walls.

The house is nearly an exact replica of its neighbor next door at 505 Linden Ave. There, Jean and Jim Leaman spent years restoring the similarly deteriorated property to new life. The Leamans opened a bed and breakfast there in January 2009.

Clearly the two homes were built by the same person or company, but the builder's identity remains a mystery.

Bowen and Brown, who currently live in Lancaster, signed papers to become the owners of 515 Linden Ave. last week.

They purchased the property for $83,500 from the city's Redevelopment Authority with a two-year lease option. In two years, after the property has been significantly renovated, they will secure their own financing through a bank.

With the condition the house is in now, "No bank would touch it with a 10-foot pole," Bowen said.

City officials had been trying since about 2005 to get 515 Linden Ave. and its neighbor at 505 Linden Ave. into the right hands, said Kevin Schreiber, the city's economic and community development director.

Both properties had fallen into awful shape and were eventually condemned by the city. But it still took years to pluck them from back-and-forth bank ownerships, Schreiber said. While York has no shortage of blighted properties, not all have the potential of 515 Linden Ave., Schreiber said.

There's a handful of others like that in the city. For example, he said, there's a brownstone building at 132 S. Beaver St. that's "screaming for the right owner."

"We got after them to try to get them before they go past the point of no return," Schreiber said.

- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.