Altoona

Shirley Pechter, who performed at age 8 with the ensemble that later became the Altoona Symphony, looks at the orchestra's 90th anniversary program.
Teresa Cheung / Altoona Symphony

This Saturday, the Altoona Symphony Orchestra will officially open its 90th anniversary season with a concert at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona.

And there is a woman who was there at the start back in 1928. Shirley Pechter, now 97 years old, was part of the Altoona Symphony at the very beginning, when it was just a small group of musicians. Pechter spoke with WPSU's Story Corps in Altoona in 2013. 

"Russell Gerhart was the violin maestro in Altoona," Pechter said.  "And he started what he called an ensemble, which was a group of six of his students."

The Blair County Courthouse sits on Allegheny Street in Hollidaysburg, PA. Private funding for the District Attorney Office and local law enforcement has put immense pressure on the county's public defenders.
Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

Michael Fiore, 56, remembered, growing up, he never had to worry about drugs in his neighborhood or the violence that they sometimes inflict. He said, back then, his community in Blair County, home to Altoona and Hollidaysburg, was safe.

But as he got older, with the rise of the opioid crisis, he saw things change. 

 

Best-selling author Mohsin Hamid spoke at Penn State Altoona on Tuesday as part of their Distinguished Speaker Series. His most recent novel, “Exit West,” was selected as Penn State Altoona’s Common Read for this year.

“Exit West” tells the story of two refugees, Nadia and Saeed, who flee a nameless country on the brink of civil war. During his keynote address, Hamid talked about the connection he sees between migrating and growing old. He tried to focus on this commonality in the novel, rather than on the ways refugees are different.

An Altoona community project, StART Here, aims to support and promote local art. Residents participated in painting a mural as part of the event.
Min Xian / WPSU

ArtsAltoona, a local organization hosted a community event, StART Here, on Saturday, aiming to support and promote local art. Event organ­­izers say they want to use art to encourage growth in the community.

Pamela Snyder Etters, the creator of a 35-foot-wide community mural on the North 4th Street, was busy climbing on and off a mechanic lift to draw the outline of the mural as well as directing volunteers to hand out burshes and paint.

John Joyce
Photo provided

Eight candidates are running in the Republican primary in the 13th Congressional district, one of Pennsylvania’s seats in the U.S. House. One of those candidates is John Joyce. WPSU’s Anne Danahy talked with Joyce about why he thinks his career as a doctor would help him in Congress.

WPSU invited all candidates in competitive races for U.S. House seats in the 12th, 13th and 15th Congressional districts for interviews. 

A blighted home sits on 12th Avenue in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Min Xian / WPSU

Altoona’s Blight Task Force released a plan Wednesday to address the city’s rundown property problem. The plan looked at the extent of blight in Altoona and recommended next steps.

Over the past five months, the task force surveyed the city's housing conditions. They found more than half of about 9,000 parcels of land surveyed are in need of minor repairs, such as a new coat of paint. Meanwhile, nearly 400 parcels require major repairs and even demolition.

After more than a decade spent in a state financial oversight program, Pittsburgh regained its fiscal independence last month. More than a dozen Pennsylvania cities remain in the program.
Margaret J. Krauss / WESA

On a Monday morning in February, people packed the Pittsburgh mayor’s conference room to witness the city’s successful transition to financial independence — an event lauded as a turning point for the city’s future.

Steven McKnight poses for a photo
Min Xian / WPSU

For those born and raised in struggling Rust Belt cities, it’s common to move away for job opportunities or a different lifestyle. The city of Altoona has steadily lost population since its height in the 1930s. But for some Altoona natives who have returned to the area, there are many appeals to working and living back home.

Steven McKnight is one of those people. He called himself a “boomeranger.”

“I’m actually a double boomeranger,” McKnight said.

Min Xian / WPSU

The city of Altoona officially came out of Act 47 on Wednesday, bringing an end to its distressed city status. Altoona's successful exit is a big win for its local government and their collaboration with the state.

Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin officially announced the rescission in Altoona's downtown Devorris Center. 

“On behalf of Governor Tom Wolf and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I’m officially signing the order which allows the city of Altoona to exit Act 47 today,” Davin said.  

KATE LAO SHAFFNER / WPSU File Image

The city of Altoona is forming a Blight Task Force to address the problem of housing deterioration, and it’s calling for residents to apply to its two openings by Friday, September 8.

The task force will spend the next year identifying the city’s problems with blight and coming up with an action plan.

The task force will have 15 members made up of city employees, business owners and local residents. Meeting once every quarter, their goal will be to learn about the city’s blight issues and help develop a strategy.

Startup Alleghenies To Help Entrepreneurs Succeed

Jun 20, 2017
Executive Director of the Southern Alleghenies Planning & Development Commission Steve Howsare speaks at a press conference.
Katie DeFiore / WPSU

Three Pennsylvania counties affected by the downturn of the coal industry will be getting help soon.

Startup Alleghenies, an initiative meant to encourage entrepreneurship in Blair, Cambria and Somerset counties, officially launched on Tuesday.

The Appalachian Regional Commission awarded a $1.2 million grant back in April to the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, located in Altoona.

Cambria County Commissioner Mark Wissinger said this grant will help workers transition from the coal mines to other lines of work.

Gillian Kratzner / Blair Dems

 At last week's mayoral debate in downtown Altoona, the two candidates had to do something unusual: explain the position they were running for. Altoona is electing it's first full-time mayor since 1989 and many voters still aren't sure what the difference will mean to them. 

Kate Lao Shaffner/WPSU

Urban revitalization often brings to mind preservation and rehabilitation—people like the idea of saving old buildings. But the reality is, in Pennsylvania's post-industrial cities, there are many, many buildings that will never be rehabbed.

Sometimes, before you rebuild, you have to tear down—and it helps do to it strategically.

Below the 12th Avenue street sign, another sign says "Blue and White Way."
Kate Lao Shaffner/WPSU

Financially distressed cities have pressing problems, like how to balance the budget. But then there are also issues like building renewal and long-term growth. 

"All of the buildings down here, they all have a really neat look to the outside of them," said Altoona Mayor Matt Pacifico. "But they just need so much work done to them."

It's a common sentiment in Pennsylvania towns that have seen better days. The potential is there, but fixing up the buildings would take some pretty deep pockets.

Join us for Fright Night, tonight from 8:00 to midnight on WPSU-FM.  You'll hear an eclectic mix of scary music, stories by Edgar Allen Poe, and some first-person accounts of hauntings at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona, which first opened its doors in 1906.

courtesy of Altoona Community Theatre

Altoona Community Theatre  presents GHOST TOURS of the Mishler Theatre in Altoona Wednesday, October 29 and Friday, October 31.  While the tours features actors as  "live" ghosts, rumor has it that the Mishler is also haunted.

(NOTE: Be sure to listen to FRIGHT NIGHT, Friday, October 31 from 8:00 to midnight, to hear more extended stories from those who've experienced spooky, unexplained events at the Mishler Theatre)

Anna Foley/WPSU

In the upcoming election, the citizens of Altoona won't just get to vote for a governor or senator, they'll also decide whether they want to change their current form of local government from Third Class City code to home rulehome rule designation essen

Altoona Forum
Kate Lao Shaffner/WPSU

Altoona area residents who came to the Keystone Crossroads/WPSU public forum described their hometown with these words:

  • full of promise
  • sad
  • isolated
  • a nice place to raise a family
  • nostalgic (some say to a fault)

And the word "nativism" came up a fair amount. This simultaneous nostalgia, sadness and hope was a common theme in discussions among the 60 people who attended the forum at Penn State Altoona's Devorris Downtown Center on Tuesday evening.

What are the issues facing Pennsylvania’s cities and towns? That’s the question being explored by a new public radio project called Keystone Crossroads. WPSU is a part of this project and tomorrow in Altoona we’ll be holding a forum to find out what you think we should be reporting on. WPSU’s Emily Reddy talked with Keystone Crossroads’ editor, Naomi Starobin, about the project and the forum.

The forum takes place Oct. 7 from 7-9pm with registration and refreshments starting at 6:30pm. Click here to sign up so we'll know you're coming.

You are invited to the Keystone Crossroads Community Forum.

Pennsylvania’s cities and towns are full of promise, but plagued by problems. Chronic issues such as crumbling infrastructure, underfunded schools, and dwindling tax base are holding cities back.

What can Pennsylvania’s cities, large and small, do to address their problems and fulfill their promise? We’d like to hear what you think.