Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

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Local Landmark for Sale: Johnstown Car Barns

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Car barns are a historic remnant of a bygone era. The Johnstown Car Barns, located at 630 and 716 Central Avenue in Johnstown are no exception.  Built in 1893 to service and store trolleys, these building help communicate the story of public transportation in Cambria County.  The historic car barns are being offered for sale, allowing for a unique opportunity to adaptively reuse the buildings so they can be retained as an important landmark in the community.

Bond Street façade of 726 Central Avenue. Source: Johnstown Passenger Railway Company Car Barns Historic Resource Survey Form. Photo by Jesse A. Belfast, 2016. Used by Permission of Thomas Sylvia of Cambria County Transit Authority

The Johnstown Passenger Railway Company was founded in 1882 after the owners recognized a need for public transit in the city.  The trolleys, originally pulled by a team of two horses, ran every 20 minutes and passengers could ride for a 5-cent fare.  The first car barns in Woodvale were used to maintain and store the trolleys, but were destroyed by a flood in 1890.  New barns were built but met disaster three years later when they burned down.  By then, the company had transitioned to electric trolleys and the demand for service was high.  The relocation of the car barns to Central Avenue allowed for an expansion that included bus lines and the construction of larger barns.

1991 HABS photograph of façade of 630 Central Avenue and 726 Central Avenue in the Background. Photo by Tom Johnson, 1991.

The inclusion of bus lines spurred the reorganization of the company into the Johnstown Traction Co. which began converting to a trackless operation. Trolley operations saw a nationwide slowdown by the mid-1950s and by June of 1960, all rail operations were halted and buses were substituted for trolleys.  This transition had little effect on the car barns which were easily adapted to the use of buses.

Undated photograph showing trolley in front of Bond Street façade of 630 Central Avenue. Used by Permission of Thomas Sylvia of Cambria County Transit Authority.

The Cambria County Transit Authority, known as CamTran, was organized in 1976, the same year they purchased the assets of the Traction Co. and took over public transit in the county. As the current owner, they used the barns for administrative offices, bus storage, bus dispatch, and plant maintenance until 2014.  CamTran’s recent expansion into new facilities has created an opportunity for adaptive reuse of the Central Avenue car barns.

The property, listed on the market for sale and available to any organization, group, or individual, consists of two structures, located on either corner of Central Avenue and Bond Street in the Moxham neighborhood, a trolley suburb of Johnstown.  The 630 Central Avenue building includes 21,734 square feet of open floor space, while 725 Central Avenue offers similar open layout measuring 33,600 square feet.  The buildings occupy a property measuring 1.747 acres which provides ample paved parking.

630 Central Avenue showing Bond Street façade of unpainted yellow brick and Third Alley façade of red brick, note the rhythm of single, double, and triple window and door openings with projecting brick surrounds. Photo by Jesse A. Belfast, 2016. Used by Permission of Thomas Sylvia of Cambria County Transit Authority.

These beautiful buildings offer historic character. A foundation made of cut stone and topped with a belt course supports a striking yellow brick façade present on all primary walls.  A common red brick is found on walls that face towards the alleyway.  The façade is broken up by a rhythm of massive arched windows with decorative brickwork surrounds.  This stunning brickwork continues with cornice and gable corbeling, engaged corbeled pilasters, and decorative inset panels.  The buildings also feature circular gable windows and arched doors with projected brick surrounds.

Decorative brickwork featuring door surround, circular gable window, inset checkerboard panel, stepped corbeled cornice, and corbeled pilasters. Photo by Jesse A. Belfast, 2016. Used by Permission of Thomas Sylvia of Cambria County Transit Authority.

The interior of the buildings boast large open spaces, with exposed brick walls and rivet and steel roof trusses. Even remnants of the trolley tracks remain embedded in the concrete floor.   These large open spaces are the perfect blank canvas for those with a creative vision and economic know how to adaptively reuse these historic buildings so they can continue to function as a community asset.

The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), which documents important engineering and industrial sites, recorded the Johnstown Car Barns in 1991 as important transportation facilities. Some of the photographs from the recordation are included in this post. The complete results of that survey can be accessed at the Library of Congress.

1991 HABS photograph of Bond Street façade of 630 Central Avenue. Photograph by Tom Johnson, 1991.

The car barns were originally zoned as “M-1” Light Industrial District, but was recently modified to include both “C-1” Neighborhood Shopping District and “C-2” Community Business District, allowing for a much wider range of uses, specifically for retail purposes.

The car barns are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places and are being offered for sale with a preservation covenant that will be held by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. The covenant ensures rehabilitation of the car barns in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, which call for the retention and preservation of interior and exterior features that characterize the buildings as transportation facilities.

If you have ever wanted to own a piece of history and help retain an important landmark in the community, now is your chance! More pictures of the car barns can be found on the Historic Resource Survey Form Addendum.  For more information on purchasing the historic Johnstown Car Barns, contact Josh Yoder at the Cambria County Transit Authority.

Author: Tyra Guyton

Tyra Guyton is the Transportation Special Initiatives Coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office with a special interest in adaptive reuse of PennDOT's metal truss bridges. She received her Master's degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Maryland.

2 Comments

  1. The trolley car #355 pictured above can still be ridden thanks to the Rockhill Trolley Museum in Rockhill Furnace, PA. http://rockhilltrolley.org/roster/355

  2. It would be So Sad to see these Remarkable Buildings of Johnstown’s Historic Past, go by the wayside & not continue to be used by a New Business or Expanding Business in Our Town that made such a Huge Impact on Developing an Integral Part of the American Way & Spirit…!

    😀

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