Westmont Historic District
The Westmont Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Westmont Historic District, synonymous with "Old Westmont," is a residential area forming the eastern half of Westmont Borough. Located atop a hill with views over the City of Johnstown, Westmont has a suburban setting, with tree-lined streets, sidewalks and rear alleys. It is bordered by the City to the east, Grandview Cemetery to the south, Stackhouse Park to the north, and the mid to late twentieth century section of Westmont to the west. There are a handful of commercial ventures, including a ca. 1890 food market and several professional and service offices. The layout is a grided street pattern, planned for Cambria by a professional landscape architectural firm from Philadelphia. One of the highlights is Luzerne Street, a boulevard with a green central median and lined with century-old elm trees. There are also two green park areas, the Indian Mound and the Mound. The former is now the site, of a microwave tower; the later is an active recreation area with tennis courts and baseball fields. Residences date from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, most wood frame dwellings. The oldest homes are located near the 1890 Johnstown Incline Railway (National Register, 1973). Most of the early twentieth century housing stock is located in the district's southern section, developed after 1900. Larger homes including several mansions built by Johnstown's elite line Luzerne, Tioga, and Bucknell streets; smaller singles and doubles dominate elsewhere. Architectural styles are varied, reflecting the range of styles popular during the period of significance. Overall integrity is very high, with a gradual diminution of historic fabric through installation of synthetic siding and poor maintenance of architectural details.
Of the district's 453 buildings, over 80% are single family homes. Non-residential buildings number only 8. They are a neighborhood grocery, public school, fire hall, several shops in one building, and 2 early twentieth century churches with associated buildings including a school. The 23 non-contributing buildings are mostly residential structures. There are two contributing landscape sites, both small parks.
The major characteristic of the district is its concentration of large, well preserved late nineteenth and early twentieth century residences. These are built in Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts, Colonial Revival and Prairie styles. Represented in smaller numbers are Second Empire, Shingle, Eastlake, Spanish Villa, Tudor Revival and International styles. Many larger homes are located along Luzerne Street, a tree-lined boulevard. Others line parts of Tioga, Bucknell, and Fayette Streets. Some occupy landscaped yards and stand on two or more building lots. Decorative exteriors of these large homes feature stone or stucco facades, shingled gables, tile or slate roofs, large front porches, and either balanced classical fenestration or rambling asymmetrical massing. Leaded sidelights and transoms decorating entrances are also commonplace. Arts and Crafts homes, large informal bungalows, have hand crafted and naturalistic finishes. Many were built by Cambria Iron Company (Cambria) executives. The Charles Price House, 510 Edgehill Drive, dates from 1891. It has a cottage-like appearance with rustic details and is the oldest of its type in Westmont. There is a rough cut fieldstone porch and porte-cochere, half timbered gable ends and staggered shingle siding. Price was Cambria's general manager when he purchased the house.
The David Cohoe House, one of the foremost Arts and Crafts mansions in Westmont, stands at 116 Montour Street. Built for Cambria's executive class, it combines a massive rough stone exterior, hand craftsmanship in stained glass windows and exquisitely tiled fireplace surrounds. Another of this type is the massive bungalow-like Love House, built in 1912 at 535 Tioga Street. Russel Love was proprietor of Love and Sunshine Co., a large candy company. A rough-hewn ashlar porch wraps around the home, which has zinc came lattice glass windows and shingled gables. Servants lived above the similarly styled stable located on the rear alley. The John C. Ogden House, an eclectic house built for a Cambria official ca. 1919, occupies a hilly corner site at 238 Greene Street. The grounds have terraced stone walkways, fieldstone walls and mature landscaping. The house is informal yet striking with asymmetrical massing, unique rounded corner window and beamed bay window.
There are several Queen Anne style homes in the district. The John Schonhardt House, 600 Luzerne Street, dates from ca. 1910. A wrap-around porch, patterned shingles, and protruding front gable are major features. Another in this style is the Jennie A. Zimmerman House, 131 Greene Street. Built ca. 1895, it is distinguished by a corner three-story tower, hip roof and leaded art glass. The 1894 Frank Buchanan House, a brick Queen Anne, is situated at 434 Bucknell Avenue. Design elements include asymmetrical massing, wrap-around porch with horseshoe arches, and a projecting two-story bay.
Queen Anne and Colonial Revival elements are both represented in the transitional 1893 Harry Hay House, 143 Greene Street, built ca. 1895. Hay was one of many wealthy businessmen who sought homes in the upscale Westmont neighborhood. There is a multi-gabled roof line, fish-scale shingles and fan windows. The classically derived verandah is distinguished by fluted Ionic columns and a dentiled cornice.
An early Colonial Revival example is the Harry S. Endsley House, 144 Fayette Street. Built in 1895, the house has refined Colonial Revival features including Doric porch columns, wide front door flanked by side lights and an overhead leaded fanlight and diamond pane sash. The rear stable features oversized fan windows. Even some double houses, like the one located at 114 Clarion Street, are adorned with high style details. Built ca. 1905, this house has a pedimented Doric entryway, pedimented side gable roof and paired dormers.
Several of the district's early twentieth century mansions follow stylistic treatments which became popular after the turn of the century. The ca. 1912 J. Leonard Replogle House, 131 Fayette Street, combines elements of Neo-classical and Spanish Villa styles, with its symmetrical layout, red pantile roof and exterior walls constructed of long narrow bricks. The garage on the rear alley is similarly constructed. The stone Tudor Revival home located at 457 Luzerne Street is the area's premier example of the style, with steeply raked gable roofs, thick roof slates, copper down spouts, leaded windows, and decorative ironwork.
The Prairie style Elmer E. Stimmel House, 434 Luzerne Street, was designed and built by 1913. Its hip roof with overhanging eaves, patterned brickwork, and shallow roofed front porch emphasize the horizontal dimensions of this style. Another example is the Louis Fayon Hannan House, 300 Luzerne street. Likely post-dating 1920, this home's stucco exterior is free from applied ornament, with a hip roof and wide expansive porch.
Several other styles are sparingly represented among the district's larger homes. The only Second Empire residence is 212-216 Venango Street. This ca. 1890 two and one-half story house has a mansard roof and multiple dormers. The ca. 1900 Eastlake style house at 204 Erie Street is adorned with a long wrap-around porch featuring decorative balusters, incised bargeboards and stained glass. Another Eastlake home is the ca. 1892 Elmer Butler House, 152 Fayette Street. It is outfitted with incised window lintels, multi-colored window sash and brackets. The district's only Shingle style home is located at 155 Greene Street. Here the entire exterior is sheathed in wood shingles, including several bay windows and the front porch. There is also a single International Style example at 300 Tioga Street, with vertical wood siding and large unadorned two-story windows.
Modest residences, including those built for professionals and lower level Cambria employees, occupy most of the district. Popular styles for these homes include Bungalow, Foursquare and Dutch Colonial styles. However, the vast majority are classified "vernacular" or utilitarian in their design, without an architectural classification. Many of these homes have decorative elements "borrowed" from various architectural styles. Common decorative touches include narrow clapboard sheathing, shingled gable ends, front porches, brackets and decoratively sawn window lintels.
The dwelling at 415 Bucknell Avenue is a classic Bungalow, one and one-half stories, with a shingled exterior and broad gables. More numerous are modest Foursquare types like 522 Colgate Avenue, with a hip roof, shingle and clapboard sheathing and diamond pane sash. One of a handful of Dutch Colonial examples is 714 Luzerne Street, featuring a gambrel roof, front porch with oversized Doric columns and a large dormer over the porch.
Homes built by Cambria were vernacular in design and the better ones were more spacious and utilized decorative architectural features. The home at 244 Tioga Street was constructed by Cambria as a rental unit in 1911. Queen Anne traits are observed in the shingled upper story, protruding roof pediment with fan windows and bay window. The home at 146 Colgate Avenue is a Sears "Modern Home" kit purchased by Cambria in 1911. A Colonial Revival sunburst motif tops double multi-pane windows in the front gable, while Queen Anne fish-scale shingles cover the entire exterior.
The William Oakley House, a single at 27 Clarion Street, is representative of a privately built Westmont house. This ca. 1905 vernacular cottage is one and one-half stories with a two-bay front porch. A recessed lancet arch clad in fish-scale shingles distinguished the front gable. One of the oldest houses in Westmont is the F. J. Varner House constructed at 120 Blair Street. Built about 1889, it typifies Johnstown's working class housing at the turn of the century. There are significant numbers of these four-by-one bay homes with side gable roof and one over one sash windows, often highlighted with decorative moldings. Strictly blue-collar neighborhoods in the city contain larger concentrations of this building type.
Side by side double houses are also quite common on Old Westmont's north side. The Thomas E. Reynolds House, 726-728 Bucknell Avenue, dates from 1907. Designed by Walter Myton, it is two and one-half stories with shingle siding, leaded glass side lights flanking the entry, and a deep front porch. A more typical double is 816-818 Edgehill Drive. There are a few back to back doubles like 328-330 Bucknell Avenue, with a Dutch Colonial gambrel roof. Another popular two-family house type, the two story flat, is seen at 934-936 Edgehill Drive.
There are a few nonresidential structures within the boundaries of the historic district. The 1894 Tioga Street Market was the only commercial building built in Victorian Westmont. This frame structure is occupied by a grocery store on the first floor with large display windows flanking a center entryway. Living quarters are located on the second floor. The former Westmont fire hall, constructed ca. 1930 at Dartmouth Avenue, is a two-story brick structure with hip roof. Inset tiles spaced at intervals around the building lend a decorative touch. Westmont Middle School, 827 Diamond Boulevard, is a 3-story structure with flat roof and yellow brick exterior walls. The original large banks of windows have been replaced with small aluminum window sashes.
There are two churches in the historic district. Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church, 424 Tioga Street, was designed by Pittsburgh architect Carlton Strong and constructed in 1924. It reflects English Gothic Revival styling. There are lancet windows, an elliptical arched entry and rock faced stone walls. The second is the 1926 Westmont Presbyterian Church, 601 Luzerne Street. This English Gothic Revival design is the work of New York architect A. G. Lament. Built in Indiana limestone, it features stained glass lancet windows and an arched portal.
Two historic open space landscape features contribute to the ambiance of the district. The Mound, a hilly 9.6 acre recreational park, is covered with large grassy areas and scattered trees. It is used for tennis courts and playing fields, and is surrounded by Edgehill Drive, Greene Street, Bucknell Avenue and Erie Street. It originally was to have been the site for a hotel serving the neighborhood. The second site, known as the Indian Mound or Reservoir Park, is an 8 acre site surrounded by Bucknell Avenue, Tioga Street, Montour Street and the edge of the hillside overlooking the city of Johnstown. It is quite hilly, grass covered with clumps of trees, and is not used for recreation. It is the site of two large communications towers, the district's only two non-contributing structures.
There are only 23 non-contributing buildings out of a total of 453 in the district, and these do not seriously detract from the district's historic character. They are widely dispersed and have a very small impact on the historic character of the neighborhood.
Non-contributing residences include those built after the period of significance and those with severe alterations. Several recent vintage buildings, although non-contributing, have sympathetic designs. Our Mother of Sorrows School, built at 430 Tioga Street, ca. 1946, follows Tudor Revival design with half timbering and stucco-like exterior. The ca. 1980 residence at 556 Colgate Avenue is a good modern day representation of the Colonial Revival style. Other examples of non-historic buildings are the ca. 1950 cottage at 540 Wayne Street and a modern one-story home at number 510 Wayne also likely dating from the 1950's. Historic structures which have undergone major alterations include the ca. 1930 house at 921 Bucknell Avenue, with vinyl siding, smaller replacement windows, and an enclosed front porch. Another is 24 Clarion Street, a small dwelling which has been remodeled with brick-like asphalt shingles and an enclosed porch.
Major alterations to the building stock have been comparatively few. One not so noticeable change in the district, since World War II, is the gradual growth in conversions of single owner-occupied homes into rental units. An example is 215-217 Greene Street. Synthetic siding is becoming more widespread, particularly on the less prestigious "supper side" north of Greene Street. Unfortunately, this is accompanied by the removal of architecturally significant elements like window trim, brackets and decorative shingles. Both 126-128 Clarion Street and 328-330 Bucknell Avenue are examples. Several homes have suffered major alterations. One is 57 Clarion Street, extensively altered with a combination of new window units and remodeling of the first floor exterior. Another is 49 Venango Street's addition of a modern wing disguising the home's historic facade. There is a gradual loss of historic fabric in the neighborhood which could begin to threaten the historic character of Old Westmont. Fortunately, there is also a renewed interest in the history of Westmont, resulting in a number of historic rehabilitation projects by residents.
The Westmont Historic District is significant in the areas of community planning and industry, as the largest company neighborhood sponsored by the Cambria Iron Company (late Cambria Steel). Cambria was significant as one of America's largest iron and steel producers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cambria invested heavily in planning and infrastructure improvements, primarily to encourage new housing and secure a stable workforce. Housing opportunities were created for Cambria's executives, middle managers and blue collar workforce. The careful placement of company houses in the neighborhood reinforced Westmont's division into its white collar "dinner side" and blue collar "supper side" sections. The historic district's other distinction is as Greater Johnstown's most dense concentration of late nineteenth and early twentieth century residential architecture. There is also an unusually large number of architectural styles represented in the district. Adding to the significance is the high degree of integrity prevalent in the district. Of special note are a number of residential works attributed to locally prominent architects Walter Myton and Henry Moore Rogers. In addition to business leaders and professionals, Westmont attracted more of Cambria's managers and laborers than any neighborhood in Johnstown. It can be viewed as a social experiment, a planned suburb away from the city, barring industry and most commercial enterprises and yet embracing a diversity of social classes.
See also: Westmont Borough: Beginnings
Westmont was planned to be a diverse community, with homes for the upper class as well as affordable homes for its many laborers. Cambria also fostered a "dinner side" vs. "supper side" division by encouraging the construction of white and blue collar housing in separate sections. The company built 28 homes for its workers. The smaller blue collar type was built north of Greene Street, while larger homes were constructed south of Greene. Most employees bought the raw land and constructed their own homes. Mortgages were offered through the Westmont Land and Improvement Company, a company subsidiary. A home with ties to the development of the suburb is the 1894 Frank Buchanan House at 434 Bucknell Avenue, a Queen Anne style homes with wrap-around porch and fish-scale shingles. Buchanan was Cambria's real estate agent, arranging the sale of lots to prospective home owners.
A succession of high ranking Cambria executives had homes built on Fayette, Greene, Tioga, Bucknell and Luzerne streets on Westmont's "dinner side." Cambria's general manager, Charles Price, had a house built at 510 Edgehill Drive in 1891 on a site overlooking the city of Johnstown. Price's house is one of Westmont's largest and earliest Arts and Crafts homes. Another mansion built for company executives is the 1910 David Cohoe House at 116 Montour Street, a dwelling with floors reinforced by Cambria's own steel I-beams. Joseph Morgan, Cambria's Chief Engineer, who had decided to rebuild his home in the city of Johnstown following the 1889 Flood, finally decided to leave the city in the early 1900's. His home at 408 Tioga Street, designed by the Maine architectural firm Stevens and Cobb, is a large unadorned Shingle cottage.
Cambria's commitment to developing Westmont into the area's premier suburban neighborhood extended beyond infrastructure. To maintain the standards of a "model suburb," the company enacted ordinances and deed restrictions. The sale of liquor was outlawed, tanneries, public houses and commercial buildings prohibited and carriage houses restricted to rear alleys. Tioga Street Market, built in 1894, was the only commercial establishment allowed in early Westmont. Located at 202 Tioga Street, it continues in this role today as Old Westmont's only neighborhood grocery store.
Johnstown's business leaders and professionals were also attracted by Westmont's reputation as the area's most exclusive neighborhood, located well above the city's flood prone and smoke filled valley. Russel C. Love, owner of the Love and Sunshine Company, hired architect H. M. Rogers to design one of Westmont's most elegant Arts and Crafts homes at 535 Tioga Street. The house at 603 Tioga Street was first owned by William H. Burkhard, president of the Johnstown Liquor Company. Also a Henry Rogers design, it has the appearance of an English cottage with thatch-like roof shingles and stucco walls.
Cambria constructed some housing for its laborers and middle level managers in Westmont, which it encouraged employees to purchase. Small uniformly designed houses, including seven singles and ten doubles, were built ca. 1891 north of Clarion Street. These were designed for unskilled mill and mining employees. Because of the lack of architectural integrity, these houses are outside the historic district boundary.
South of Greene Street, on the "dinner side," Cambria constructed a total of eleven single family homes for rental to middle management employees. On the "dinner side" the earliest group dates from 1901, located at 126, 130 and 134 Tioga Street. They are vernacular, two and one-half story dwellings with shingle sheathing. The second group, built at 238 and 244 Tioga Street, and 409 and 415 Colgate Avenue, date from 1909-1911. They are seven room houses provided with hot water heat, electricity, bath, toilet and reception hall. The last group to be built was Sears, Roebuck and Company house kits, built in 1911, at 134, 140, 146 and 152 Colgate Avenue. Each is a two and one-half story frame home with shingle and clapboard sheathing, lunette lights in the front gable and spacious interior with three bedrooms. The first tenants at 244 Tioga Street were Thomas and Winifred Reilly. He was employed as an "estimating engineer." They purchased the property in 1939.
Cambria reserved two hilly sites for other uses. The Mound, planned as a hotel site, has been continually used as a neighborhood park. It provides green space, tennis courts and is a neighborhood amenity. The second is Reservoir Park or The Indian Mound, sited at the head of Luzerne Street, a tree-lined boulevard. It furnishes a park-like view for nearby residents although it is not actively used as a park. A reservoir planned for the site was never built. Both landscape features are original to the landscape plan for Westmont and contribute to the neighborhood's ambiance.
The two most prolific architects in the history of Johnstown, Walter Myton and Henry Moore Rogers, designed a number of homes in Old Westmont. Myton, a native of nearby Huntingdon, earned his bachelor's degree in architecture from Cornell University in 1895. He worked in Pittsburgh for several years and joined the Johnstown office of Altoona architect Charles M. Robinson. Between 1902 and 1906 he was in partnership with James K. Boyd. One of Myton's earlier works is the ca. 1898 Queen Anne style Zimmerman House at 131 Greene Street, with its corner tower with onion shaped dome and stained glass windows. The Thomas E. Reynolds House, 726-728 Bucknell Avenue, was built for the treasurer of Woolf and Reynolds, a local clothing store.
Wallace, E. Kim, ed. The Character of a Steel Mill City: Four Historic Neighborhoods of Johnstown, Pa. Washington: National Park Service, 1989.
Morawski, Ewa. For Bread with Butter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Shappee, Nathan Daniel. A History of Johnstown and the Great Flood of 1889: a Study of Disaster and Rehabilitation. Unpublished dissertation for Doctor of Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh, 1940.