From its humble beginnings as a soft drink factory, the former Tulip Bottling Co. has flourished into the vibrant Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center in Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood.
Where glass bottles filled with brightly colored soda and marked with the distinctive tulip motif once clinked on a conveyer belt are venues for visual and performing arts.
With Cambria City’s storied ethnic neighborhood so rich with history, it was only natural for Bottle Works’ founder Rosemary Pawlowski to want to locate her newly formed ethnic arts center right in the midst of it.
“At first, people wondered why I wanted to do it,” Pawlowski said.
“I didn’t have a clue how it would materialize. I had a board, and at the end of 1992, I thought about getting a building.”
The idea for Bottle Works took root for Pawlowski during the 1889 Flood Centennial.
She worked as a volunteer with Nick Jacobs, who would become one of the founding members of Bottle Works, at the four events held throughout that year.
“People were wearing shirts stating they were proud to be Irish, Italian, German, Polish,” Pawlowski said.
“My mother was born in Italy, but no one would tell me anything. They were poor, and everyone was supposed to be 200 percent American.”
With the public’s reaction to the flood centennial and the soon-to-come National Folk Festival, Pawlowski observed that people were getting excited about their heritage.
Then Johnstown continued celebrating its ethnic heritage with its own folk fest, and Pawlowski knew residents needed a place for an ethnic celebration all year and to find out about their heritage.
“People had been ashamed to be ethnic, but now they were proud,” Pawlowski said.
“You couldn’t stop it. They were on board. Bottle Works was a mandate from the people.”