Each year, the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO) recognizes the hard work and dedication of outstanding organizations, municipalities, agencies, and individuals whose work embodies the theme of Pennsylvania’s statewide historic preservation plan, #PreservAtionHappensHere, with a PA SHPO Community Initiative Award.
This year’s four recipients have demonstrated the value of preserving iconic places and community landmarks through their ownership and stewardship. They are:
Fighter’s Heaven (Schuylkill County)
The training camp in Deer Lake is where heavyweight champion boxer Muhammad Ali prepared for some of his most famous fights, hosted world-renowned fighters, artists and entertainers, and shared his passion for boxing and life with his neighbors.
The complex was in disrepair when the new owner Mike Madden, son of NFL’s John Madden, bought it in June 2016. It took three years to stabilize the buildings, which include the gym, a mosque, the mess hall and Ali’s cabin, so they could use them for museum, exhibit, and interpretive space to teach visitors about Muhammad Ali and his time in Pennsylvania.
Earlier this year, Fighter’s Heaven opened to the public as a museum about the iconic boxer’s life, career and time in Pennsylvania. You can learn more about Fighter’s Heaven on their website.
Mahoning Drive-In Theater (Carbon County)
Opened in 1949 in Lehighton, the Mahoning Drive-in Theater is a modern drive-in cinema that had been in operation for more than 50 years. In 2012 the film industry began transitioning to digital production, so in order to show current movies, the owners would have needed to replace the original 1940s projectors and CinemaScope screen – the largest in Pennsylvania – with expensive new equipment.
In 2014 the theater’s longtime projectionist and two partners purchased the drive-in, which is one of only 26 left in Pennsylvania, and opted to maintain it as an “operating museum” of classic American 35mm films.
Today, visitors can experience the 1950s-era drive-in through Mahoning’s original entrance building, signage, screen and projectors. You can learn more about the Mahoning Drive In Theater on their website.
Lazaretto (Delaware County)
Significant as the first quarantine hospital in the Western Hemisphere, the Philadelphia Lazaretto was established in 1799 and was operated by the Pennsylvania Board of Health until 1893. It then became home to the Orchard Club and later Chambers Field in World War II. The Lazaretto was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
Tinicum Township purchased the massive 15,700 sq. ft. property in 2005 to save it from demolition – the previous owners had hoped to build a parking lot on the property. In 2007 began working with the Lazaretto Preservation Association of Tinicum Township (LPATT) and other local stakeholders to find a new use for this nationally-important property. A Keystone Historic Preservation grant in 2010 helped develop the conceptual designs for the property’s reuse.
After 14 years of planning and construction, the Lazaretto opened in 2019 as the new home for the Tinicum Township offices and a museum about the Lazaretto and its role in U.S. history. You can learn more about the project in this news article.
McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation/Roxian Theater (Allegheny County)
Opened in 1929, it served the McKees Rocks area as a vaudeville stage, movie theater, concert venue and banquet hall before closing in 2003. In 2004 the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation (CDC) was founded with goals to revitalize the former 1,500-seat theater as a regional performance destination and a catalyst for a proposed arts and entertainment district.
The CDC purchased the property in 2011 and continued construction work begun in 2007 to restore the façade, return the entrance to its original footprint, preserve the surviving interior features, and upgrade seating and systems for use as a contemporary concert venue. The restored Roxian reopened in May 2019. You can learn more about the project in this news article.
#PreservAtionHappens Where They Are!
This year the PA SHPO is taking our Community Initiative Awards on the road to the winners!
We will be working with each of this year’s awardees on a celebration event in their community in May 2020 for Historic Preservation Month to celebrate their achievement.
Stay tuned to this blog and our newsletters in 2020 for in-depth posts about each of the awardees and their projects and details for the award celebrations.
Congratulations to our winners!