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Downtown Altoona is the cultural and commercial center of the historic railroad city of Altoona, Pennsylvaniamarker. Much of the downtown area is listed in the national registry of historic places. Popular landmarks include the Mishler Theatremarker, the Penn Alto building (formerly the Penn Alto Hotel), the Gable's Building, City Hall, the Cathedralmarker, and Eleventh Avenue itself. The Jaffa Shrine, an auditorium owned by the local chapter of the Shriners, is also located in downtown Altoona.

Downtown Boundaries

Unlike most major cities, the exact boundaries of the downtown are not agreed on, since there are no defining features of the city that would divide the downtown from other parts of the city. Many residents conservatively define the boundaries as 10th avenue, 13th or 14th avenue, 18th street, and 11th street, since that is the urban/commercial core of the downtown. Using a more expanded definition, which is more popular nowadays, boundaries are 6th Avenue (and according to some sources, from 11th street to 19th street stretching up to 3rd avenue, because of the historical signifficance of that area), Willow avenue from 4th to 9th street, 16th avenue from 9th street to 16th street, then 14th avenue to 18th street, 4th street between 6th and Willow avenues, and Route 36 as it changes from 18th street to Union Avenue, to Broad and Beale Avenues, to 24th street, including landmarks such as the Altoona Hospital and the Jaffa Shrine. A slightly more expanded definition includes the Bon Secur Holy Family Hospital and the surrounding areas, which could be said as a 27th street boundary in 16602, and a 25th street boundary in 16601. The most expanded definition stretches up to 1st avenue, to 31st street, to North 8th street (in the Juniata section), and to 20th avenue. That definition is mostly used by tourists unfamiliar with the area and has no official merit, because that area is simply denser than surrounding areas.

The surrounding neighborhoods are Fairview, "east" Logantown, Dutch Hill, the Fifth Ward, the Broad Avenue district (24th street and points south), and the area surrounding the Bon Secur hospital campus. The areas near the downtown boundaries are transitionary, this can be seen as one part of the downtown is nicknamed "lower Fairview" due to its residential nature and transition into the true low-density Fairview neighborhood, and part of "Dutch Hill" falls within the downtown boundaries.

Features of the Downtown

Like with a traditional city layout, the downtown is centrally located with significant development in all directions from the downtown. The downtown's importance has diminished with the closing of many landmark stores, the closing of many industries in or near the downtown, and the expansion of the city's commercial suburbs, however downtown Altoona remains important to the city's economy. While retail has decreased, there are still very few office vacancies or residential vacancies. Even many retail storefronts remain filled.

The commercial core of the downtown includes many multistory residential, commercial, and mixed-use facilities designed in a turn of the century neo-romanesque style. A typical feature of a building in Altoona is an exceptionally high ceiling, causing the buildings to stand taller than would be expected based on the amount of floor space. One such example is the six story Penn Central Place, known to locals as the Black and Yon Building. Despite being only six floors, the building is roughly 100 feet tall, towering over the eight story modern apartment building across the street and roughly 15 feet shy of the height of the Penn Alto building, another building constructed in the same time period. These high ceilings are either traditional tin or plaster ceilings, although sometimes a drop ceiling is placed over the ceiling. Outside of the commercial core exist a mosaic of multistory commercial structures, mixed use facilities, single story commercial structures, warehouses, apartment buildings, multi-unit housing, and single-family homes. The density of the downtown neighborhoods far exceed that of the rest of the city. You see the mosaic of warehouses, mixed-density residential, and mixed-density commercial structures in Lower Fairview and along Route 764.

One unique little known fact is that the Texas Hot Dog was originally created in downtown Altoona in 1918, although the Paterson, New Jerseymarker Texas Hot Dog location, which opened in 1924, is more famous. The Altoona restaurant remains open to this day.

Downtown Altoona, like many center city districts in the region, is a mixture of landmark buildings, museums, shopping destinations, novelty stores, parks, offices, apartments, and urban-style housing, which is recognized by the structural similarities to Victorian or Edwardian mansions, but built very narrow and tall with little to no space between the two structures. These are sometimes used as double or triple family apartments or even converted into commercial space. One unique feature of the downtown is that the two halves are more connected by pedestrian footbridges or underpasses than by automobile overpass bridges or underpasses. This is a testimonial to Altoona's history as a pedestrian-oriented city.

There are several sections of the downtown, the central business district, the Margaret Avenue Industrial Area, the Jaffa Mosque district, the Altoona Hospital complex, the Altoona Area School District main campus, the Little Italy district, the "lower Fairview" section, and the Branch Avenue industrial area (which stretches to 6th avenue). Often when locals talk of "downtown", they usually mean only the central business district.

Many cities have at least one ethnic enclave of some sort, and Altoona is no exception. Altoona's aforementioned "Little Italy" section of the downtown is a primarily Italian district characterised by ethnic shops, businesses owned by Italian families, and the buildings constructed in a style similar to traditional Italian architecture. One building is actually called "Banca Italia", and contains two businesses, along with apartments and offices on the higher floors, although it is no longer used as a bank.

Penn State Presence

Penn State Altoona has bought several downtown buildings, including the former Playhouse Theater building, the six-story Penn Furniture building, and the former WRTA building. Penn State Altoona's downtown facilities are actually not very far from where they originated. The presence is most noticeable with many of the businesses near the area where Penn State Altoona's downtown facilities are and the presence of a Blue Lot near the Wolf Court building offering three hours of free parking.


See also

Altoona, Pennsylvaniamarker

Mishler Theatremarker

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament marker

Railroaders Memorial Museummarker

Altoona, PA informational website

Altoona, PA events website

Website of the City of Altoona

Photos & Images of Downtown Altoona at

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