On this date in 1953, The Los Angeles Times ran a profile of the new youth center under the headline, “Seal Beach Develops Youth Center From Former Army Base Barracks.”
The Seal Beach community had felt a need to create a space for the younger portion of the city’s residents for years, but now it was becoming a reality. The youth center building had served as barracks at the deactivated Santa Ana Army Air Base and then was converted temporarily into a classroom for Orange Coast College, the new occupant of air base property.
Seal Beach city councilman Don Lawhead was also a trustee of Orange Coast College. He and Orange Coast College president Dr, Basil Peterson worked out a deal where the building would be donated to Seal Beach if the city paid the $675 cost of relocating it to Seal Beach from Costa Mesa. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact date the building was removed from Orange Coast College, but Seal Beach Ordinance #434 was approved on June 16th, 1953, allowing for the immediate relocation the former barracks, so it must have been after that date.
The wooden frame building was installed immediately adjacent to the old city hall building’s library where the current city hall and council chambers now stand. The Times piece stressed that the small-size of the building, which housed a recreation room, a kitchen, a locker room, and an office, would still benefit all the 1000 young people in Seal Beach by carefully scheduling a wide range of games and activities targeting the different age groups from preschoolers to teenagers.
The cost of converting the building and the land into a youth center was estimated at about $10,000. The youth center wasn’t just the building. Three lots of the land was reserved for outdoor play with additional landscaping and the entire grounds was to be enclosed by an attractive fence, according to city administrator Harry Logan.
Work on the youth center was still ongoing when the article was published, but the center’s work-in-progress status did not prevent the youth center building from being used earlier for an October 26 Halloween dance for Seal Beach teenagers.
The youth center project continued to make progress for the rest of the year. In November, the city hired Frederick W. Burry to serve as the youth center director. Minutes for the council meeting on December 15th indicate that landscaping would be completed shortly after the stucco coating of the building was completed, and the council decided to initiated a community drive to raise funds for equipment.
(Mr. Otis Hassinbiller immediately stepped up to offer a donation of $100 on the condition that the money not be used to purchase a jukebox.)
By early 1954, the new Seal Beach youth center was already considered a success. The February 7, 1954 Los Angeles Times reported that in less than two months of operation, the center was serving 400 “youngsters” a week by offering dancing, indoor games, and outdoor sports to seventh to twelfth grade age groups.
– Michael Dobkins
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