Earth Matters: Recycled buildings: Saving history and the environment

Many historic and architectural treasures have fallen to the plagues of neglect and misdirected development over the years here in Blair County.

Yet amid all those sad stories are a number of happy endings, too. Here, in no particular order, are some exceptional building recycling projects that preserved a place that might otherwise have been a victim of the wrecking ball.

The Columns – The old First National Bank Building was transformed into an elegant banquet and meeting hall. Named after the massive columns in front of the building, many of the bank’s amazing interior features (especially the incredible stone work) can still be seen on the inside.

Keith Hilltop Terrace – The former Keith Junior High School, gracing the hill between 19th and 20th avenues since its initial construction in the depths of the Great Depression, is now a wonderful apartment building. The classic subway tile hallways and terrazzo floors are still a conspicuous part of this beautiful brick building.

The Hollidaysburg Borough Building – It’s been nearly 20 years since the renovation of the old borough building began, and the matching addition was incorporated into the complex. But it remains an excellent example of how an old building can be saved while adding much-needed new space that complements the historic original.

Altoona City Hall – From the outside, City Hall’s renovations, now a decade old, may not seem as dramatic as Hollidaysburg’s, but anyone that saw the before-and-after will appreciate the effort put into saving the 90-year-old building.

Bell Mansion – The historic Bell Mansion just beyond the southern border of Bellwood was a brush-covered eyesore surrounded by a junkyard in the early ’90s. Antis Township decided to invest their Community Block Grant funds in resurrecting the mansion built by the family that the town is named after, and it now is home to the Bell Mansion Tea House.

The Tyrone Area Public Library – Though it was too far gone to save the top floors, the Tyrone Library saved the first floor of the old First National Bank Building at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 10th Street. The most amazing Italian-Renaissance features of the century-old building are gone, but the still beautiful ground floor was preserved.

The Masonic Temple – Now a state office building, the most beautiful features of this gem are obscured by the Center for Nursing (that was built about 40 feet too close to the lodge building). Just the same, the building was saved and has been recycled into a well-utilized office building in downtown Altoona.

Mamie’s Cafe – It’s somewhat plain exterior architecture is more than compensated for by its charming interior, incredibly good food and the neat mural on the outside. Built in 1872, this Martinsburg mainstay features a life-size mural illustrating Teeters Hotel, its next-door neighbor that was destroyed by fire in 2000.

Even if we added another dozen of the area’s success stories, the list would still be too short. With the hope of preventing the loss of anymore of those irreplaceable treasures, we’ll look at some other historic buildings that may be on the verge of demolition in an upcoming column.

We’re looking for your input on our list of endangered buildings in Blair County. Link to our short survey at or e-mail John Frederick at