Sunday, January 30, 2011

The center, in Talent

Last week saw beginning the research on the Talent Elementary School, an 1899 building that is in the early steps of becoming that city’s second ever National Register-listed property.  Built at the corner of I and Main streets as Talent’s third public school, it was replaced after little more than a decade of school use by a larger, brick, building.  In 1914 the Talent School District sold the property to the city for $1500, which transformed it into Talent’s first City Hall.

Today the building is called the “Talent Community Center” and now, as for most of the past century, that name is entirely accurate.  Talent’s first city hall, the location of the city’s council meetings and officials, the venerable building housed Talent’s public library from 1920 until 1975, has served as a polling place, the post office, the chamber of commerce, and the historical society.  In addition to the Talent Community Club, which played a major role in the building’s history and its grounds, the VFW and the Grange met here,.  So did the Campfire Girls, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, and the Garden Club and, during WWII, the Red  Cross.  Talent's fire department and police department were both housed here.  The Lions Club has helped improve the property from more than half a century.  There was even a church group that met here for awhile, renting the hall from the city to hold services and in the 1960s and 1970s one of the city’s first preschools occupied the basement.

Since the main floor of the Community Center (then the city hall) was the largest assembly space in town, in addition to all its regular users, the building hosted any number of dances, and fundraisers, talent shows, art shows and other events.  A schedule for the City Hall during any typical week of the mid-20th century must have found nearly every citizen in Talent in the building at one time or another.

Looking back at that history, it's hard not to compare the role of the Talent Community Center, a vibrant combination of government, civic, charitable, religious and educational uses all co-mingling under one roof, with the way we separate all those activities into different venues of today.  Few towns still enjoy the experience of pushing back the trappings of local government to make space for the garden club or an ice cream social.  I’m not so sure that is progress.

Talent prides itself on its small town character and its friendliness.  Their historic community center, still a pretty busy location, epitomizes that attitude.  It has for the better part of 110 years.

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