Step back in time with JAHA social club
BY KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent
Visitors to Johnstown Area Heritage Association’s Heritage Discovery Center who wish to “step back in time” and enjoy the atmosphere of an ethnic social club should visit the fourth floor.
When the doors open and visitors step out, they’ll be inside JAHA’s Ethnic Social Club, which was renovated in 2007-08 to create an authentic space that pays homage to the social clubs that once existed throughout Johnstown, as well as the ones that still do.
According to JAHA’s website, “Ethnic social clubs played a major role in Johnstown’s history, and many are still active today. At their peak, more than 100 clubs were active in Johnstown. Initially, they were founded to help recent immigrants adjust to life in America, providing needed social and economic support, including insurance benefits, citizenship classes, English classes and more. By the end of World War II, most clubs filled a purely social function, and as the clubs’ native languages shifted into disuse many clubs began admitting members of other ethnic groups.”
Shelley Johansson, JAHA’s director of marketing and communications, said that the social club space is well-loved by those who attend both public and private functions there.
“It has been styled to look as authentic as possible,” she said. “It’s furnished with items from social clubs in Johnstown that have closed. The bar and backbar are from the West End Polish Citizens Club. The tables and a blackboard are from the Slovenian Home in Lorain Borough. We also have all of our (AmeriServ Flood City) music festival posters hanging up in there. It’s just a really a neat space.”
The space also features a red and black linoleum tile floor, as well as “a metal poster for Grossvader Old German Lager, which was once brewed in Johnstown by the Emmerling Brewing Co.”
Johansson said it’s important to note that the Ethnic Social Club is a public space through and through.
“Anyone is welcome,” she said. “It’s available to everyone, and it’s even available to rent. It’s not a club in the sense that you have to be a member.”
In order to give the fourth floor consistent use, Johansson and her fellow staff members at the non-profit organization have been hosting Last Friday at the Ethnic Social Club, a monthly music series that takes place September through May, for more than a decade.
The doors for these performances open at 5 p.m. and the music begins a half hour later. There is no cover charge or fee to attend.
Johansson described these casual, low-key events as a “great way to end each month.”
“In addition to the overall atmosphere of the social club,” Johansson said, “I think what people really enjoy about Last Friday is that it takes place pretty early in the evening. People like to stop by after work, listen to music and maybe have a drink before going out to dinner. Plus, there are so many talented musicians in Johnstown, and people really seem to enjoy the opportunity to see them up-close.”
Guest bartenders representing local businesses and organizations in town volunteer to serve drinks during the events. All tips that the bartenders receive are donated back to JAHA.
All of the performers are also volunteers.
“We’re really grateful for everyone’s support,” Johansson said. “A lot of the performers often remark how much they enjoy playing there, and it’s such a delight to me that so many people are so willing to volunteer their time.”
On Jan. 31, Justin Giuffre and the Pilgrimage will perform an acoustic set. And on Feb. 28, organizers will welcome Jeff Webb and the Delectable Sound for their inaugural performance in that space.
Upcoming acts for March, April and May will be announced soon (check the organization’s website for event listings and/or follow JAHA on social media).
“We book a wide range of bands and musicians,” Johansson said. “Stone Bridge Blues Band, Jeff Perigo, Dave DiStefano, The Evergreens, Walt and Jackie, TREE, Chris Verbano ... lots and lots of folks come out to play. We really can’t say enough how much we appreciate their support. They’re making a very real donation to the organization when they volunteer like that.”
Johansson mentioned that there have been some special moments at these events, including a marriage proposal. She invited community members — especially those who have never attended an event in that space — to stop by sometime soon.
“Last Friday at the Ethnic Social Club is a great way to step back in time, enjoy good conversation, buy affordable drinks and listen to some great music,” she said.
The center is also raising funds to fix its elevator. The project will cost around $90,000. Anyone who wishes to contribute can find the campaign on JAHA’s Facebook page, (www.facebook.com/theJAHA) or website (www.jaha.org). Checks designated “elevator fund” can be mailed to JAHA at PO Box 1889, Johnstown PA 15907.