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Tamaqua's former Liberty Hall receives $3.8M for restoration

  • The former Liberty Hall in Tamaqua will be renovated into residential housing units thanks to $3.8 million in funding through the Pa. Housing Finance Agency (PHFA). DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS
    The former Liberty Hall in Tamaqua will be renovated into residential housing units thanks to $3.8 million in funding through the Pa. Housing Finance Agency (PHFA). DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS
Published July 10. 2010 09:00AM

At the turn of the 20th Century, Liberty Hall was one of Tamaqua's main commercial properties and home to social and sporting events such as theater, boxing and basketball.

Thanks to newly-announced grant funding, the old Liberty Hall will receive a new lease on life.

The historic Tamaqua area landmark will be converted into residential living units as part of a neighborhood redevelopment project.

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) has approved $3.8 million for the restoration and reuse of the former Liberty Hall, located at 420 East Broad Street.

The development includes $2.3 million in equity investment in Federal Housing Tax Credits, approximately $481,000 from Historic Preservation Credits, $500,000 in PennHOMES funds, and the remainder in local equity.

"This is yet another important step forward to revitalizing our communities here in Schuylkill County," said State Senator David Argall (R-29) in a news release for the funding. "Block by block, a restored streetscape sends a positive message to the entire community."

The proposal includes two apartments and 10 town homes with full enclosed garages. All apartments will use sustainable materials and meet "Energy Star" standards.

The project is similar to the restoration of the former Aiken building, located behind the Liberty Hall building, which the Alliance For Building Communities (ABC), Allentown, was able to convert to apartments.

"Without a vibrant community, we simply cannot compete for the jobs and economic growth that is necessary for ourselves and our children," said State Rep. Jerry Knowles (R-124) in the news release. "These investments are necessary to rebuilding and restoring our future."

According to Donald R. Serfass, local historian and author of Iron Steps: Illustrated History of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, Liberty Hall has had a variety of owners and functions through the years.

"From its start, Liberty Hall was a prominent industrial and commercial complex in a quickly growing community," said Serfass. "The main section, the brick portion, is believed to have been built about 1875. A frame front office and entrance were added about 1920 and are still part of the building.

Serfass said Liberty Hall hosted dances, boxing matches, basketball games, and private parties, and played a large role in Tamaqua social life, particularly in the Roaring 20s.

"It was a popular venue for sports and even theatre in that era," he related. "In fact, on June 23, 1923, a theatrical play entitled, The Waif of Sunshine Inn, written and directed by Tamaqua native Miss Ruth A. Steinert, debuted in Liberty Hall.

"In the 1930s, it also functioned as a roller skating rink. The hall featured a balcony on three sides from which was suspended a basketball cage enclosed in fish-net type netting.

"The lower level was the site of Liberty Garage, later called Peoples Garage. There, owner Jere Knepper sold DeSotos, Reo Flying Clouds, Reo Speed Wagons, Oldsmobiles, Viking Eight and other early models. The garage portion was large enough to hold 35 cars."

Liberty Hall also was the location of Sprite Manufacturing, a shirt factory, in the early 1920s, noted Serfass.

On Oct. 22, 1959, Liberty Hall was acquired by J. E. Morgan Knitting Mills and continued to serve a variety of commercial and industrical uses in later years.

Liberty Hall now has the chance to once again establish a useful niche in the community.

"This is very good news for the building, the neighborhood, the Alliance for Building Communities, the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership and all of Tamaqua," said Micah Gursky, President, Tamaqua Borough Council and treasurer of the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership. "Our board really went out on a limb for this project by acquiring it and it is great to see it moving forward.

"Our historic buildings have a lot of life left in them and I'm so proud of the team of volunteers and professionals who are helping Tamaqua save and reuse our assets," added Gursky. "Converting Liberty Hall into residential apartments is a great re-use of this important building."

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