Former rectory The Steeples Project

A former rectory, shown at right in Johnstown’s Cambria City section, was donated to 1901 Church Inc., sponsor of The Steeples Project.

Leaders of the group working to open a theater in the former St. Columba Church announced Thursday that they’ve acquired the old St. Columba rectory, located next door to the church building, and have begun making plans to incorporate it into the theater operation.

The former rectory at 916 Broad St. in Johnstown’s Cambria City section most recently housed the Heritage House Inn Bed & Breakfast, whose owners, Virginia and Dennis Fitzpatrick, have donated the property to 1901 Church Inc., the nonprofit corporation that sponsors The Steeples Project.

“We can’t thank the Fitzpatricks enough for their donation,” said Kim Rauch, chairman of 1901 Church’s board of directors, in a press release announcing the donation. “Acquisition of this former rectory is a real game-changer for us!”

1901 Church plans to use the former rectory as corporate office space and list it on the short-term rental website Airbnb. Longer-term plans call for using the building and its grounds to support the theater; while designers are just beginning to factor it into their plans, initial thoughts are that the theater’s box office, lobby, concessions stand, dressing rooms and performers’ green room can all be located there.

“We have been very happy to own and operate the Heritage House Inn Bed & Breakfast in historic Cambria City over the last 10 years,” Virginia Fitzpatrick said. “We are happy, as we concentrate our energies on our Florida bed-and-breakfast at this time, to donate the building to The Steeples Project, so that the historic integrity of the building and neighborhood will continue to flourish.”

Meanwhile, The Steeples Project has restored heat to the St. Columba Church building for the first time in a decade and is preparing to reopen the building in rough condition for use by area theater companies while development of the formal theater project continues.

The parish of St. Columba was founded by Irish immigrants in 1888. Its original church building at the corner of Chestnut Street and 10th Avenue still stands, and is now owned by Alternative Community Resource Program; the newer church building was built at the corner of Broad Street and 10th Avenue in 1913 and 1914. St. Columba was one of five Roman Catholic parishes in Cambria City that was consolidated in 2009 into Resurrection Parish; its rectory was sold to the Fitzpatricks less than two years later.

1901 Church acquired the former St. Columba, Immaculate Conception and SS. Casimir and Emerich buildings in 2011 and launched The Steeples Project in 2012, with the goal of finding new uses for the structures. The organization reopened Immaculate Conception as The Grand Halle on Broad Street and sold SS. Casimir & Emerich on Power Street in 2015.

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.

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