Downtown Johnstown has a new greenspace for rest, reflection, and joyful moments for adults and children, thanks to a family with ties to the city.
On Thursday, Community Foundation for the Alleghenies (CFA) and other project partners gathered to dedicate the new Locust Park in honor of Leo and Stella Cakouros. The couple, both immigrants from Sparta, Greece, opened the Johnstown Seafood Restaurant in 1936 and operated the business for more than thirty years. They loved living and working downtown, and Stella liked to call Johnstown the “city with a soul,” their children said.
The Cakouros family partnered with CFA to create the new park, which features a rounded central patio, a seating area, and four custom-ordered outdoor musical instruments: a swirl, yantzee, imbarima, and tuned drums. Trees will be planted to provide shade and additional beautification around the seating area.
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, formerly a gravel parking lot.
“We’re here to celebrate the story of Leo and Stella and their love for this city,” Foundation President Mike Kane said. “The family approached the Foundation because they wanted to create a peaceful place downtown in honor of their parents. 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, a program for high school students that is funded by the Foundation in partnership with Goodwill Industries of The Conemaugh Valley, Inc., landscaped the park and installed the instruments. The Vision2025 Greenspace Capture Team helped vet and support the project. Milkies Lawn and Landscaping constructed the park.
Vision2025 Coordinator Ryan Kieta says the park reflects the donor’s intent, 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,” Kieta says. It also builds on other improvements underway in the downtown area. “You can look at Central Park and recognize there’s real momentum generating outward from the square right now.”
The couple’s three children—Dennis, Arji, and Andonia—said the inscription on the plaque that marks the park’s entrance perfectly encapsulates their feelings. It says: “This park was founded in memory of Leo and Stella Cakouros. It is dedicated as a tribute to the spirit and work ethic of the many immigrants that found a welcome home in Johnstown, the ‘city with a soul.”
Arji Cakouros added that the park is a fitting tribute to 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. “As such, 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.