JAHA hosts 1920s party at 103-year-old Train Station
BY KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent
The Johnstown Train Station, located at 47 Walnut Street, was designed by Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison, an architect described by JAHA President Richard Burkert as “one of the pre-eminent train station architects of the early 20th Century.”
Johnstown Train Station was built in 1916, making the building 103-years-old this year.
Though the building is still utilized — Amtrak provides daily passenger train service there — the grand waiting room remains inaccessible to the public. Currently, visitors and travelers can only glimpse inside the original waiting room by peering through the windows.
This has been the case since the mid-1990s, when Amtrak’s ticketing office was moved from that area into the concourse area, and the waiting room was subsequently closed.
Last year, the grand waiting room was used for a Vision 2025 Volunteer Party. That event served to remind attendees what a beautiful space the waiting room is, said Deb Winterscheidt, JAHA’s director of development and member services.
This spring, JAHA will open the grand waiting room once again, giving even more people an opportunity to step inside.
“JAHA Rides the Pennsylvania Railroad Back to the 1920s” is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. June 1.
During this 1920s-themed cocktail party, guests can enjoy libations from a cash bar (which will be located at the former ticket office in the waiting area), plus heavy hors d’oeuvres catered by Holiday Inn Johnstown-Downtown. Toward the end of the evening, a cookie and coffee bar will be offered.
Attendees can mingle on the benches that date back to the opening of the train station in 1916 and remain in good shape. Tables will also be available for those who wish to reserve one or more.
Guests are welcome to come dressed in outfits that evoke the 1920s.
“Dressing up is optional,” Winterscheidt said, “but it’s always fun.”
The setting and the period music that will be played throughout the evening will be designed to evoke the time period when the Johnstown Train Station was in its infancy, when travelers relied on the trains to get them from Point A to Point B.
Local and regional artists have donated exclusive artwork that will be raffled off that evening. The artwork includes an image of the Stone Bridge and a limited edition, signed giclée print of the Johnstown Train Station by artist Larry Richard Mallory.
Individual tickets are on sale now. “Dining car” and “private car” packages are also available. To purchase tickets online, visit www.jaha.org and click on “Events.” Tickets can also be purchased over the phone by calling 814-539-1889.
Proceeds from this event are to benefit JAHA. JAHA has owned the Train Station since 2011.
“We’ve always loved this building,” Winterscheidt said. “It has been incredibly important to Johnstown’s past, and now we are focusing on how it can be used in the future.”
Burkert, Winterscheidt and other JAHA staff members have been working hard to help revitalize the station’s waiting room and make it usable (and open to the public) again.
When JAHA acquired the building almost a decade ago, staff members discovered myriad repairs that needed to be made. Burkert secured a grant that allowed the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to partner with JAHA to repair the roof, which was made of concrete and was badly crumbling.
Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian connects Johnstown to Altoona, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and New York to the east and Greensburg and Pittsburgh to the west. CamTran has two routes that stop at the train station, and Greyhound buses also stop at the Train Station.
In collaboration with other organizations in town, including Vision 2025, JAHA staff members have been advocating for increased passenger rail service, as well as on working on reuse plans.
Reuse plans explore many possibilities for the waiting room, including a farmer’s market space, a visitor’s center, a culinary school and/or a restaurant. A lot of money needs to be raised in order to make the progress they want to make, Burkert said, but he emphasized that seeing that waiting room open to traffic again isn’t “a pie in the sky wish.”
“I think the whole community would like to see this happen,” Burkert said. “Johnstown Train Station is in a wonderful location, and the building itself is one of the finest buildings in Johnstown in terms of classically inspired architecture.”