Laborers — many of them immigrants — used 2,203 tons of stone, 969 barrels of cement, 576 tons of sand and 192 tons of slag to create the towering structure known as the Roxbury Bandshell.
Located at 1430 Franklin St. in Johnstown’s Roxbury Park, the bandshell was built during the Great Depression to honor the people of Johnstown and their resilience following the city’s flood in 1889. Tim Burns, a Johnstown attorney and a founding member of the Roxbury Bandshell Preservation Alliance, said that the bandshell is not only special to the city, but also the United States.
“There were 20-some bandshells built, and the Roxbury Bandshell is the last one (from that era) standing in the United States,” Burns said. “I was recently talking to a man who enjoys taking pictures of the bandshell — he told me he’s obsessed with it because there’s nothing like it.”
Burns — who also serves as solicitor and vice-chairman of the preservation alliance — said that despite the bandshell’s unique history, Johnstown City Council members had given the go-ahead in 2005 to have it torn down. A citizen’s group was formed to prevent the loss of what they and others considered a significant piece of the city’s history.
“During the summer of 2005, the city had demolition trucks at the site, and I filed the lawsuit to block it — the way we stopped it was like something out of a movie,” he said.
Burns mentioned that the preservation alliance now has an excellent relationship with the city.
“It’s ancient history, that whole battle,” he said.
Back in March of 2006, the Roxbury Bandshell Preservation Alliance was formed to help promote what the bandshell has to offer the city in terms of music, history and education.
Over the past eight years, the preservation alliance has raised and invested nearly $400,000 into the bandshell. It’s theirs to operate for the next 25 years (a common misconception is that the preservation alliance owns it, but that’s not the case).
Recent renovations have included a chemical cleaning (“We didn’t know how dirty it was until we saw how clean it looked,” Burns said) and a thorough re-pavement of the stage, which Burns said now looks like it did back in 1939.
Renovations are ongoing. This year they are working on adding a handicap ramp. In the future, the group aspires to focus on the skating rink and the bandshell’s interior.
“The skating rink is right in front of the bandshell, and we’re hoping to raise separate funds to move it back so there’s more room in front of the stage,” Burns said. “We also want to get the interior renovated.”
Following their formation, the Roxbury Bandshell Preservation Alliance set up a fund for the bandshell through the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies. Donors can make tax-deductible donations payable to the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, c/o Roxbury Bandshell and send it to their Johnstown office location (116 Market St., Johnstown PA 15901). All donations received go toward future preservation efforts.
Burns said many people take notice of the work that preservation alliance members have done to preserve and maintain the bandshell. “I believe now since we’ve gotten it cleaned and refurbished, people are impressed,” he said.
Nowadays, the bandshell plays host to an annual Summer Concert Series. It’s popular not only amongst music fans, but also the musicians themselves.
“We have a waiting list for bands to perform,” Burns said. “And they all volunteer to perform — their performances are not paid. Everyone volunteers. We’re very thankful for that.”
Sponsored by AmeriServ, this year marks the ninth year for the Summer Concert Series that draws hundreds of people to the bandshell each Sunday afternoon throughout June, July and August.
“Each year, usually half the bands are new,” Burns said. “There’s something for everyone: polka, rock, alternative, country.” Burns said that he is glad to see people of all ages — including a new generation — enjoy what the bandshell has to offer.
“It means a lot to see the people there every Sunday, having a good time,” he said. “People have even gotten married there. The bandshell is creating a lot of positive memories. I think there’s a lot of pride in it. It’s an excellent symbol of the city’s resilience. We’ve survived floods, there’s an economic renaissance going on downtown . . . it’s just a unique structure — it’s one of the major historical sites in the region and people want to keep it going.
“I think this generation is really embracing it — we’re making history now. This is living history.”