For more than 150 years, the area known as "Cambria City" has been home to working-class residents of Johnstown. Originally, immigrant steelworkers and coal miners were guided here upon arriving in Johnstown. They formed families, gathered into ethnic groups and founded their own churches and societies. Cambria City became a richly colorful cultural center.

As recently as 2009, five of the Roman Catholic parishes founded by ethnic groups still thrived here: SS, Casimir and Emerich (Polish and Hungarian), St. Columba (English-speaking), Immaculate Conception (German), St. Rochus (Croatian) and St. Stephens (Slovak). Click on the Tour the Steeples link to see how the interiors Casimir, Columba and Immaculate Conception appeared in 2008.

In July, 2009, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown consolidated the five parishes into a new Resurrection Parish and closed three church buildings – Casimir, Columba and Immaculate Conception.

A group named "Save Our Steeples" worked to raise money and promote reuse of the buildings. Their grassroots efforts generated funding that supported an effort by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association and Partners for Sacred Places of Philadelphia, Pa, to organize a Cambria City charrette (a visioning workshop) in November of 2010. Out of that charrette came a concept to redevelop Columba into a theater and use it as the venue for an original historical drama telling Johnstown's immigrant story.

Over the next year, a 501(c)(3) corporation called "1901 Church, Inc." was identified and offered by its president, Teresa Stoughton Marafino of Jennerstown, as a corporate entity that could be used for the acquisition of the building. Then Resurrection Parish told community leaders that it couldn't continue to maintain the three church buildings. During the fall of 2011, Resurrection Parish and 1901 Church, Inc., negotiated an agreement for the purchase of all three buildings for a total of $30,000.

1901 Church took possession of the buildings on December 30, 2011, and launched The Steeples Project to raise funding and plan new uses for these architecturally, historically, and culturally significant buildings. To date The Steeples Project has raised more than $300,000 and moved reuse plans forward for all three buildings.

The former Immaculate Conception was reopened as "The Grand Halle on Broad Street" in September of 2012. Now the Grand Halle features monthly concerts that showcase its brilliant acoustics and some of the area's brightest musical talents. Thanks to its Gothic ambiance, resonate Adam Stein pipe organ and Munich-style stained glass, The Grand Halle also has become one of Greater Johnstown's premier wedding and special-event rental venues.

Because the former SS. Casimir and Emerich has two floors, including a former social hall on the first floor, it attracted significant interest from a number of commercial enterprises inquired about either leasing portions of the building or purchasing it. In 2015, Stella LLC., a Cambria City-based property development and event management company, purchased Casimir from 1901 Church, Inc. Not only did the purchase price enable 1901 Church to recover the community's investment in Casimir, but Stella signed a conservation easement, which obligates the owner of this property to maintain the exterior and significant interior architectural elements in perpetuity. 

To learn about Stella's commitment to heritage preservation and its exciting plans for Casimir, visit Stella's website.

The Steeples Project vision for the former St. Columba continues to be the redevelopment of that building into a theater for the dramatic arts and use of the venue to stage a professionally produced historical drama telling Johnstown's immigrant story. Work now is underway to preserve this important resource and begin the pursuit of this bold vision.

While much has been accomplished, significant challenges remain. The Steeples Project needs your support!