CHARLEROI – The large, vacant meeting hall in Charleroi’s borough building has hosted a noted opera singer and a rally seeking the re-election of a Pennsylvania governor, and it also was used as a training site by heavyweight boxing world champion Michael Moorer of neighboring Monessen.
Charleroi Area High School’s baseball team used the third-floor ballroom, too, for batting practice, resulting in stray balls leaving holes in the plaster and breaking windows, said Charleroi Council President Paul Pivovarnik, who’s leading efforts to restore and reopen the space as an events center.
“It’s a blank canvas,” Pivovarnik said about the space that originally was named the Charleroi Municipal Auditorium.
“This can become a showplace,” he said.
Borough Council at its March 9 meeting authorized an engineer to seek proposals from companies interested in completing the project. It also has secured a consultant to seek grants to pay for the work.
Meanwhile, the borough used a $580,000 grant from the local share of the pot at The Meadows Casino in North Strabane Township to install an elevator in the building, a three-story brick structure that was built in 1908. Another $60,000 grant will be used to replace the restrooms on the third floor of the building at Fourth Street and Fallowfield Avenue.
The floor also can be reached by a grand stairway located on the second floor of the building.
The ballroom measures 6,000 square feet, making it one of the largest meeting rooms in the Mon Valley, and it has a nearly 30-foot ceiling, Pivovarnik said. Circular windows are evenly positioned near the ceiling on two walls and behind the stage.
He said there is a need for such a space for community events, such as small weddings and business events, because of the closing last year of the Willow Room banquet hall in Rostraver Township.
He said council, to date, has not used any local real estate tax money to pay for the upgrades that will reopen the third floor.
The space also was once known as the Cougar Canteen when it was used in the 1950s and 1960s as a dance hall after Friday night high school football games.
A tenor named Ernest McChesney performed on the stage in June 1940. The American singer was the principal tenor for the New York Opera. Pennsylvania’s 28th governor, Gifford Pinchot, held a campaign rally in the room in 1938.
Pivovarnik said he hopes Charleroi Area Historical Society has records that would reveal the names of others who have either spoken or performed in the room.
The space needs new wiring, heating and air conditioning and a serving area for caterers, he said.
“It’s waiting to be refurbished,” he said.