Last updated: February 19. 2013 4:38PM - 805 Views

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This isn't the way the cookie usually crumbles.

The Hitchner Biscuit Company Building, an eyesore along Exeter Avenue in West Pittston for decades, as been given a new lease on life as 18 moderate-income apartments were unveiled on Friday morning.

The $6 million renovation was paid for through a mix of private and public funding from United Neighborhood Community Development Corporation of Scranton, PNC Bank, Luzerne County, the state Housing Finance Agency. The last piece of the funding puzzle was $500,000 in local share gambling funds.

The 18 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments are equipped with kitchens and baths and there is a community space and off street parking for all residents. All but two units are rented. The 4-story fireproof concrete structure was built in 1905 and at its height, the company employed 300 people, including Agnes Lanzone.

Lanzone, 85, a lifelong West Pittston resident, remembered helping grease the massive cookie pans used in production of some of the company's famous Coco Crisps, Scotch Lassies and Bonnie Molasses and Nic Nacs.

There was a conveyor that brought the pans down from the cleaning room, she said. It was a good job.

She said many family members, including her then future husband Louie, worked at the factory.

I was also a packer, packing cookies and crackers, she said. I worked here for about six years, until I got married.

The facility baked 90 different types of cake, biscuit and cookie products. Cresco Crackers were known as the Biscuit that made West Pittston Famous.

Bill Hastie, a lifelong West Pittston resident, worked making marshmallows in 1941 while between his two hitches in the army.

Each batch had 1,400 pounds of sugar in it, he said. The sugar came in 100 pound bags and I was the one guy on the shift that could handle those bags.

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held before tours were offered of the building. State Rep. Phyllis Mundy said the property is an asset to West Pittston.

Affordable housing is such a need in our community, she said. The people who live here will be grateful to have such a high-quality building in such a beautiful community.

Boyd Hitcher, great-grandson of one of the founders Joseph Hitchner, provided memorabilia from the bakery's heyday, including photos, cookie crates and cracker boxes.

He said many in West Pittston remember the Broken Cookie Room where damaged cookies could be purchased for as little as 25 cents a bag. He said his grandmother would give him money to go to the movies across the bridge in Pittston, she wouldn't provide money for candy.

Go down to the bakery and get some sweets out of the broken cookie bin, he said his grandmother would tell him. And don't put those sticky molasses and marshmallow cookies in your pockets. Take the hard cookies!

The massive two-story brick coal and steam ovens were included in the new design of the building.

The ovens had to be on day and night, Hitchner said. They couldn't let them cool down. They were so big.

One of the ovens now serves as a sitting room and the other is set up as a sitting/reading room.

Hitchner said the building was often the hub of town.

It provided jobs for hundreds of people of West Pittston for many years, including the Great Depression and into World War II, he said. The bakery was staffed for three shifts a day. He said everyone in town called the building simply, The Bakery.

Bill Goldsworthy, the Deputy Director of Governor Tom Corbett's Northeast Regional Office, served as Mayor and councilman for 26 years. He said he's glad to see all the hard work of so many people come to fruition.

We all saw that this could be something productive, he said. This is a great example of how a public/private partnership is supposed to work.

State Sen. John Yudichak said the building kept history alive in the area.

The transformation of the abandoned building from eyesore to community asset is dramatic, he said in a news release. The new apartment building was carefully constructed in a way to reflect the history, charm and character of a significant part of West Pittston's past.

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