Hotel blaze hits home

The Altoona Hotel – a fixture in the city for more than 100 years – was gutted by fire Monday night.

Fortunately, nobody was injured, and while we’re grateful for that, we’re saddened by the loss of a popular Altoona landmark that so many of us enjoyed.

An investigation continues into the cause of the blaze in which firefighters battled near-zero degree temperatures – it was the coldest night of the year – which caused their water to freeze, compounding a dangerous and difficult challenge.

What began as a hotel with a restaurant and bar 110 years ago was transformed into an eatery, with an adjoining lounge.

It withstood several ownership changes over the years but continued to survive into recent times as Altoona became a haven for numerous national chain restaurants.

That transition has not been easy for the local restaurant owners, but the Altoona Hotel remained viable because of its tradition, its quaintness, its spirit and its good food.

In a story in the Mirror on Wednesday, local architect Judy Coutts, a patron of the Altoona Hotel, summed up the loss this way: “[The] Altoona Hotel WAS Altoona.”

We agree.

While the city is perhaps most known for its railroad heritage, the Horseshoe Curve and, in the last 15 years, the Altoona Curve baseball team, most who grew up here or have lived here have tasted the Altoona Hotel’s pizza – an extra thick, square-cut with yellow American cheese that made it distinctly unique.

The hotel’s owners, Bjorn and Lisa Reed, say they would like to rebuild, but they aren’t sure whether it would be on the current site, which is located at 38th Street and Fifth Avenue in the Knickerbocker section of Altoona.

We hope the Altoona Hotel returns and, in the meantime, we’ll miss the flavor it brought to our city.