From a gravel parking lot to a musical park that’s meant to provide a place for the community to come and escape the everyday hustle and bustle of life.
On Thursday, the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and project partners gathered to officially dedicate the new Locust Park in downtown Johnstown in honor of Leo and Stella Cakouros.
Immigrants from Sparta, Greece, the couple opened the Johnstown Seafood Restaurant in 1936 and operated the business for more than 30 years.
According to their children, the pair loved living and working in downtown Johnstown, with Stella Cakouros calling it the “city with a soul.”
So to honor their legacy, the Cakouros family partnered with the Community Foundation to create the park, which is along Locust Street.
It features a rounded central patio, a seating area and four custom-ordered musical instruments – a swirl, yantzee, imbarima and tuned drums.
Construction was funded through a donation from the Cakouros family and other foundation donors.
The foundation worked with the City of Johnstown to negotiate a long-term lease for the space.
Mike Kane, president of the Community Foundation, said the park is meant to celebrate the story of Leo and Stella Cakouros and their love for the city.
“The family approached the foundation because they wanted to create a peaceful place downtown in honor of their parents,” he said. “They were gracious enough to allow us to expand the idea to include these instruments as art installations so we could create something truly unique that adds to a vibrant sense of place downtown.”
Members of the Johnstown Youth Corps landscaped the park and installed the instruments.
The Visions 2025 Greenspace Capture Team helped vet and support the project, and Milkie’s Lawn & Landscaping constructed the park.
Ryan Kieta, Vision 2025 coordinator, said the park reflects the donor’s intent of adding a pleasant space for reflection to the downtown experience through an interactive, multi-generational approach.
“This project transforms a blighted lot into an attractive investment,” he said. “It also builds on other improvements underway in the downtown area.”
Arji Cakouros said the park is a fitting tribute to her parents, two people who loved nature, family and music.
“Our parents came to this country from Greece as part of the wave of immigrants of the early decades of the 1900s,” she said. “Their dream of creating a life in this great country where to be honest, work hard and live a life observing the Golden Rule could provide them all they could desire, became a reality in Johnstown, the community they loved so very much.”
Additional plans call for trees to be planted in the park that will provide shade and beautification around the seating area.