Highland hall reopens

Building brought ‘back to life’

Visitors gather inside the main entrance at Highland Hall in Hollidaysburg to mark the historic building’s reopening Thursday. Development company S&A Homes worked for at least two years to transform the dilapidated structure into an apartment building that houses senior citizens. Photo for the Mirror by J.D. Cavrich

By Sean Sauro

ssauro@altoonamirror.com

HOLLIDAYSBURG — An old building got a new opening Thursday morning in Hollidaysburg, and dozens showed up to celebrate.

Thursday marked the grand reopening of Highland Hall, a historic building on the 500 block of Walnut Street.

“I’m very proud to be here,” said Andy Haines, addressing a crowd that gathered just inside the building’s main entrance.

Haines is the executive vice president of S&A Homes, a development company that worked for at least two years to transform the dilapidated structure into an apartment building that houses senior citizens.

“Today is a celebration,” he said.

During his speech, Haines spoke about the many people, including building contractors and financiers, who made the $13 million renovation possible.

Constructed about 1840, the historic building had been a constant in the community, housing several schools, including a World War II radio program, and later holding county offices.

In the 12 years prior to S&A Homes’ work, the structure had sat vacant and had fallen into disrepair.

State Rep. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg, addressed its decline when speaking at the Thursday opening. She recalled a conversation with one of her sons, who told her, “I can’t remember Highland Hall in anything but disrepair.”

“I want to thank you all for having the foresight and vision to take this back to something of beauty and prominence in our community,” she said.

Of the original building, only the center portion and entryway remain. It was in that portion that Thursday’s opening was held.

There, a circle of padded chairs sat before a piano in what has become one of the building’s common areas.

In new additions to the side and rear of the about 82,000-square-foot building, contractors created 53 senior housing units — both one- and two-bedroom apartments.

The apartments are available to people 62 and older who make less than $32,000 per year.

Among them is Audrey Blyler, a lifelong Hollidaysburg resident, who was one of the first people to move into the newly renovated Highland Hall.

“I love it here,” she said.

Blyler remembered visiting the hall in her youth, when servicemen occupied the space. She joked that there was a lot of flirting in those days.

However, she said, she couldn’t have imagined that she would one day live in the building.

“By golly, here I stand,” she said.

Others, too, were impressed with the transformation. Hollidaysburg Mayor Joseph Dodson called the apartment complex “a beautiful facility.”

Blair County Com­mis­sion­er Bruce Erb talked most about the structure’s past, speaking sometimes from personal experiences.

They included a time when his church was undergoing renovations, and the congregation rented space in Highland Hall.

“Every Sunday, we came here for church and Sunday school,” Erb said, admitting that he’d often sneak away from Sunday school to explore the old building.

State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr. addressed developers and contractors directly.

“The building is alive today,” he said. “Thank you for bringing the building back to life.”

As of Thursday, the building’s apartments were about 50 percent occupied, Haines said, guessing Highland Hall would be full by June.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.

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