Broad Avenue Historic District
The Broad Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. 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 Broad Avenue Historic District is centered on eight blocks of Broad Avenue in the south central section of the city of Altoona. The mostly residential area is situated southeast of downtown and is set within a triangular area defined by diverging railroad lines, the Norfolk Southern on the west and the Hollidaysburg branch line on the east. These lines converge just north of the district at 17th Street and tend to isolate the neighborhood to some degree. Specifically, the district is the heart of the neighborhood and extends along both sides of Broad Avenue roughly from 23rd to 31st Streets. Topographically, the Broad Avenue Historic District is relatively level, being part of a broad valley through which the Norfolk Southern lines pass. This topography contrasts with the generally hilly terrain on the west side of the inner city. Land features are quite rugged west of here and the Norfolk Southern slices though these hills in a steeply graded passage leading southwesterly out of the city to the National Historic Landmark Horseshoe Curve. The Broad Avenue Historic District is in a turn-of-the-century working class residential neighborhood surrounding a core of professional and entrepreneurial housing stock situated along Broad Avenue. Excluded industrial and commercial land uses and an open channelized section of Mill Run lie to the south. Broad Avenue and adjacent blocks are laid out according to a grid plan. The grid is set on an axis parallel to the Hollidaysburg Branch Line, a northeast to southwest alignment that mirrors grid systems on Altoona's east side, but which is on a different axis than most west side neighborhoods. Presently, approximately 24% of the district is given over to commercial and office uses, however, 72% of commercial buildings are situated at the northern end of the district in the 2300 and 2400 blocks of Broad Avenue. Broad Avenue is lined with some of the finest turn-of-the-century homes found anywhere in Altoona. The district has 140 contributing buildings, and 7 noncontributing buildings and retains integrity.
The Broad Avenue Historic District has a wide stylistic range of historic building stock, reflecting the variety of architecture in use around the turn of the century. Perhaps the most prevalent definable style is Colonial Revival, which characterizes more than 37% of the buildings in this district. Another 27% of buildings are executed with Italianate designs, while 22% are best classified as Queen Anne. The remaining 14% of contributing buildings include a few each of Dutch Colonial, Neoclassical Revival, late Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Craftsman, and Mission styles. Many buildings contain architectural influences other than the predominant style. The area is nearly devoid of building types such as the bungalow, which prevail in many early twentieth century Altoona suburbs, suggesting that most development took place here prior to World War I. Ninety-three percent of buildings were built prior to WW I.
Predominant building materials are brick 49% and clapboard 21%, including also drop or shiplap wood siding. Modern siding also characterizes nearly 27% of all buildings in the district. Buildings in the district are generally two or two and one-half stories in height. Most are topped with cross or lateral gable roofs, although there are a number of front-facing houses and hip roof houses. With one exception buildings are set approximately equal distance from sidewalks. The residence at 2919 Broad Avenue is set at the rear of that double lot.
Visual estimates and analysis of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps suggest that 52% buildings in the Broad Avenue Historic District were constructed between the years 1890 and 1909. Slightly less than 14% predate 1890. Approximately 27% were built in the decade following 1910. It appears that the oldest buildings occur at the far northern and southern ends of the district. Although the Broad Avenue Historic District maintains architectural integrity, 22% of buildings have undergone some alteration.
Like styles appear to be clustered in distinct areas along Broad Avenue. The west side of the 2300 block of Broad Avenue exhibits predominantly Queen Anne single family dwellings embellished with Italianate features. Porch styles vary with several having been enclosed. The west side of the 2700 and 2800 blocks of Broad Avenue show rows of Colonial Revival style (Foursquare) brick houses with hipped roofs, front facing dormers, and similar porches with roof lines flowing into one another. On the east side of the 2500 block two tall Queen Anne residences (2513 and 2521) appear as bookends for two shorter Queen Anne mirror image houses joined together. This joining of close together mirror image houses occurs elsewhere in the district at 2500 and 2502 Broad Avenue. Many of the high style features of this grand Beezer Brothers Colonial Revival style house are obscured, but intact behind two story porches. Palladian windows, barrel top dormers, classical pedimented perches, modillioned cornices and gabled ends, oriel windows, and paired Doric columns remain visible.
The east side of the 2300 block and the west side of the 2400 block of Broad Avenue are exceptions, displaying nearly all of the architectural styles of the era and a mix of building uses. Both blocks contain examples of the Dutch Colonial style. In the middle of the block at 2317 is an unusual ca. 1890 Dutch Colonial Revival style residence with Queen Anne style influence. This house has a round corner tower that is quite narrow and is capped by a conical slate-covered roof topped by a metal finish. The main gable roof is laterally oriented featuring modified Palladian windows at the side and a front-facing gambrel dormer with a recessed attic porch set within a large arch. The building is faced with red brick with rock-faced sandstone used as a base and trim material. The front porch has elaborate wood posts and is largely original. The double, Dutch Colonial at 2400 and 2402 is also unusual with its twin Dutch gambrel dormers.
Representations of transitional Queen Anne-Colonial Revival style residential architecture can also be found on Broad Avenue. Two identical examples are at 2614 and its neighbor 2612. These are large and imposing brick- faced residences that have sizable porches, stained glass windows and an abundance of sandstone trim. They are distinguished by octagonal towers that project as bay windows on the lower floors, then pierce main hipped roofs and rise up another story, to be capped by steep pyramidal roofs. Both buildings have altered porches. The building at 2612 had porch columns and base rebuilt, years ago, and more recently partially enclosed. At 2614, the original porch remains intact, except for its northern portion at the base of the tower, which has been removed.
The ca. 1895 Beezer Brothers Colonial Revival style houses at 2500 and 2502 Broad Avenue are significant Broad Avenue landmarks. They appear to be mirror images of one another. Each house has a full-width front porch and a semi-octagonal second floor window, at one side, capped by a steep and elaborately accented front-facing gable. These gables are set on large lateral gable main roofs and are flanked by small round-arched dormers. Each front gable has an elaborate Palladian window. The front porches have apparently been rebuilt into simpler two-story porches when the houses were made into apartments. There is a cantilevered second floor side bay on one house, evidently serving the main stair landing.
One of Altoona's few examples of Richardsonian Romanesque style architecture is at 2600 Broad Avenue. A ca. 1890 rock-faced sandstone residence, it has a round tower capped by an elaborate set of third floor windows and a conical roof. This particularly fine neighborhood landmark residence has an especially elaborate and well preserved wrap-around front porch.
There are three churches in the historic district. Broad Avenue Presbyterian, at 24th Street, is executed in the Late Gothic Revival style and dates from ca. 1895. It has a rock-faced sandstone exterior and is accented by attached stone buttresses and Gothic windows with stained glass. Recessed back from the avenue is a square tower element that is capped by a steep flaring pyramidal roof crowned with an elaborate finial. It has three lower stories, each accented by progressively smaller and more numerous Gothic arched openings. Its lowest floor features a broad Gothic opening containing the main entrance. Our Lady of Lourdes Church (noncontributing), at 27th Street, is from the Post World War II era. Broad Avenue United Methodist Church stands at the corner of Broad Avenue and 29th Street and is an example of Late Gothic Revival style architecture dating from 1927. The building is in the form of a rectangle covered by a massive and fairly steep gable roof. This roof is interrupted at the corner by a square tower. The main entrance is set within a Gothic stone enframed arch at the first floor level, reached from the sidewalk by a broad spreading set of masonry steps. A label lintel graces this doorway. Above, on the second floor of the tower, are two stone-framed rectangular windows. At the tower's third level is a broad rectangular louvered opening leading into the belfry. It is also framed in cut stone and is divided by tracery into three Gothic arched openings. The tower rises into a stone-accented parapet that reaches the height of the main roof ridgeline and is decorated by crenelations. The front gable has a massive broad two-story Gothic window with stone tracery and a massive spandrel section that evidently separates the lower sanctuary level from a balcony level. Flanking the tower are smaller windows on two levels of the front elevation. On the side is a large Gothic window set into a small gable in transept-like form. It is flanked by two lower Gothic windows. At the far end of the street-facing side is a side entrance, framed by a massive bracketed wood porch hood. A cut stone water table marks the top of the raised basement level.
The seven, widely dispersed non-contributing buildings which consist of two Ranch-style houses, a modern office, a very recent neo-Colonial style house, a modern restaurant, and a Mission-style church do not seriously detract from the district's historic character. Several of the non-contributing buildings of recent vintage have sympathetic designs. However, the juxtaposition of the one-story; light brick, ca. 1975 Colonial Revival at 2606 Broad Avenue, between a Richardson Romanesque and a pair of imposing, red brick Queen Annes with octagonal towers and steep pyramidal roofs can still appear jarring.
Major alterations to contributing building stock have been comparatively few. One change in the district, since World War II, is the gradual growth in conversions from strictly residential to mixed commercial/residential use. This change is most noticeable in the 2300 and 2400 block of Broad Avenue but particularly on the east side of the 2300 block.
The Broad Avenue Historic District represents the earliest streetcar-oriented development in the City of Altoona. The area encompasses a range of architectural styles and types prevalent from the decade of the 1880s through the turn of the century. Many of the city's most imposing architect-designed residences are located within the district boundaries where many of the most important business and professional people resided. The period of significance begins in 1880 as the promise of transportation innovations made this a more desirable location and ends in 1927 when most of the lots had been built on.
By the early 1880s Altoona's in-town wards were built nearly to capacity. As activity in both the city and the shops increased, residential building sites away from the city center became more attractive. Given the topography of the narrow valley, the two most obvious directions to move were uphill — east or west-- or south, to the flat terrain drained by Mill Run. Land to the south had the added advantage of being upwind from the shops.
The coming of the trolley made development along Broad Avenue economically viable. With streetcar access, Broad Avenue became a sought-after residential address. The City Passenger Railway Company, incorporated on March 10, 1882, inaugurated horse-drawn streetcar service on July 4. The original route was a three-and-a-half-mile loop along 17th Street, 11th Avenue, 11th Street and 8th Avenue; it soon expanded south along 7th Avenue to 25th Street. Concurrent with the expansion of the PRR locomotive shops into Juniata in 1889-90, track was extended down Chestnut Avenue to that borough; more track was also laid on the east side, from 8th Avenue to 6th Avenue and north to Lloyd Street, one block past 1st Street. Another line extended south along 11th to 18th Street, then along Union Avenue under the tracks to Broad Avenue all the way to the city line at 27th Street, traversing a large, level tract between the main line and the Hollidaysburg branch line.
Another motivation for growth away from the city center, evident in the number and variety of development schemes in Altoona at the turn of the century, was profit. Trade in real estate had been the city's "second industry" since the acquisitive intentions of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) sent Logan Valley property values skyrocketing in the late 1840s. From that start, the phenomenal growth of Altoona's population and economy made any owner of a sizable piece of property a potential developer, and the PRR had always tacitly depended upon the individual initiative of the speculation builder to house its work force. Profit was an especially powerful incentive to build during the prosperous 1880s and 1890s, due to the growing number of merchants, professionals, PRR executives and technicians with incomes more than sufficient to meet their basic needs.
Rapid expansion meant the steady conversion in the market place of inexpensive tracts into highly touted subdivisions. In an 1896 overview of the city's attractions, Charles B. Clark described ten Altoona "suburbs," optimistically including under that denomination the sleepy rural community of Collinsville, east of the city. Several advertisements in the same publication, however, indicate a more complex and intense level of residential development, borne out by the number of subdivided properties recorded in county plat books of the period. Sylvester C. Baker promoted lots in seven 'additions to the City of Altoona,' 'exceptionally well located for pleasant and healthful suburban homes.' These were divisions of the more than 5,400 acres in and around the city controlled by the Elias Baker estate. Attorney/developer Edward H. Flick touted his modestly picturesque development in southwest Altoona (Westmont) in a quaint, instructional tone obviously addressed to the first-time homebuyer. The photograph accompanying his ad shows an early version of tract housing: in addition to vacant lots, Flick offered pre-built cottages designed by the Beezer Brothers architectural firm. The proliferation of identical picket fences around apparently identical houses indicates the exercise of a substantial degree of design control.
The same consistent appearance but a much more high-style, Beaux Arts architectural character marked Flick's building program on Broad Avenue. Here, on a number of lots between 24th and 26th streets, he created a neighborhood for himself, again employing the design skills of the Beezer Brothers. Presentation drawings from the architectural firm's catalogs convey Flick's ambition to construct an integrated streetscape of "town houses" for the well-to-do, culminating in his own brick Queen Anne house at 2528 Broad Avenue. Sylvester Baker was just as careful to set high standards for Allegheny Furnace, the neighborhood he developed around Baker Mansion southeast of Broad Avenue. Baker was not a speculation builder like Flick; instead, he influenced what got built by laying out oversized lots with deed restrictions attached. The various efforts of Flick, Baker, and developers like them helped make manifest class distinctions that were a fundamental part of the city's life, whatever the rhetoric of its public image.
Elegant homes as well as more modest middle-class residences lined both sides of Broad Avenue. Attorney Edward H. Flick proposed a building program of high style, Beaux Arts architectural character encompassing the broad period of elaborate eclectic styles between 24th and 26th Streets. Flick actually designed a neighborhood in which to build his own home. As in other Flick developments, the Beezer Brothers were commissioned to design many of the houses.
The twin Beezer brothers, originally carpenters from the Centre County, Pennsylvania town of Bellefonte, had opened an office in Altoona in 1892 after a year of professional architectural training in Pittsburgh. They were immediately successful. Altoona's elite embraced their picturesque style, which introduced an ambitious kind of sophistication to Altoona's neighborhoods by way of grand upright forms, substantial materials, and a profusion of ornamental details. The flamboyance — and naivete — of their first residential commissions, overwrought as they were with towers, bays, balconies, dormers, parapets, and balustrades, quickly matured into an easy but more restrained command of a traditional formal language. The brothers developed a keener sense of pleasing proportions and a feel for a balance of textures through the unity rather than the quantity of ornamentation. Brash experimentation evolved into a highly fashionable and distinctively Beezer design accent.
Several prominent people owned property along Broad Avenue. E. H. Flick's Beezer Brothers designed residence at 2528 Broad Avenue is a Queen Anne/Italianate style with features typical of the time and place. The house features Palladian windows, a classical two-story porch on the front elevation, stone jack arches, elliptical windows, attic dormers, and a two-story bay window on the side. Flick's other Beezer Brothers buildings are the connected mirror image houses at 2500 and 2502 Broad Avenue. They were likely built as an investment. These highly decorative representatives of the Queen Anne style have side gables with a large front facing dormers, Palladian windows, barrel top dormers, classical pedimented perches, modillioned cornices, oriel windows, and paired Doric columns. W. S. Hammond was District Attorney from 1893 through 1898. His Queen Anne residence at 2521 Broad Avenue designed by the Beezers is an excellent example of the more modest Queen Anne architecture of Broad Avenue. This building sports modillioned soffits, a classical porch, a two-story bay on the front elevation, and a Palladian window.
By 1960 Altoona was characterized as having severe economic adjustment problems caused by the decline of railroads. The downturn of the railroad released a large number of workers not absorbable by the local economy due to an inability to create new jobs in sufficient numbers. Today, the Broad Avenue neighborhood maintains a high level of building occupancy, successful businesses, and active institutions as well as a high level of historic integrity.
American History Partnership. City of Altoona Historical and Architectural Survey. March 15, 1995.
Lamborn, Debbie and Baechle, Patrick. Places of Distinction: An Illustrated Historic Tour of Altoona's Finest Architecture. Altoona: ARCHlTUR, Inc. 1991
Clark, Charles B. Illustrated Altoona. For the Board of Trade. Altoona: Privately printed, 1896.
Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. Oxford University Press, Inc., 1985.
Schlereth, Thomas J. Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1875-1915. Harper Perennial edition, 1992.
Wallace, Kim E., et al. Railroad City: Four Historic Neighborhoods in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Washington, D.C.: HABS/HAER Division, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1990.
The Broad Avenue Historic District's northern boundary begins at the intersection of the unnamed alley on the west side of Broad Avenue at 2300 Broad Avenue and 23rd Street. It proceeds east along 23rd Street to Broad Avenue then turns north for the width of the property on the east side of Broad Avenue at 2301 Broad Avenue, then turns east at 23rd Street to the unnamed alley behind the properties on the east side of Broad Avenue. It proceeds to the intersection of this unnamed alley and 31st Street, then turns west along the curbline, crossing Broad Avenue to the intersection of 31st Street and the unnamed alley behind the properties on the west side of Broad Avenue. It proceeds along this unnamed alley to the beginning point at its intersection with 23rd Street.
The boundary of the Broad Avenue Historic District includes the strong concentration of period architectural styles reflecting middle and upper class architecture trends from the late 19th century. The boundary excludes neighborhoods to the north, south, east and west as properties in those areas are of different materials, building styles, set backs and feeling and association than those properties on Broad Avenue.