By MARCIA LANE
HASTINGS – The long-closed Hastings Community Center is scheduled to begin coming down today (Feb. 11).
St. Johns County Commissioner Jeb Smith said this morning county engineers have examined the building and said it was “structurally unsafe”. The expense of salvaging the building is considered too high.
“It’s sad to let it go,” Smith said, but added there are liability concerns.
Last year, in a small voter turnout, Hastings residents voted to dissolve their town, which had been in existence more than 100 years. That put decisions about the defunct town into the hands of the St. Johns County Commission. Several months ago officials said the building, completed in 1937, would be torn down.
It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and for a number of years some residents have sought to save the structure and give a new purpose. No word on what the county will do with the empty lot. Cost of tearing down the building is estimated at $60,000.
Construction of the building came under the federal Works Progress Administration, a New Deal era government program designed to help provide during the Great Depression by putting up public works projects. It helped jobs for millions who were unemployed throughout the United States.
Finished in 1937, the center once housed town hall and the fire department. Local civic groups met there and volunteers put together the town library in the white, two-story building with with the art deco influence to its architecture.
Located at 401 North Main Street, the building was also the site of the annual Potato Ball, for years an annual salute to Hastings’ largest agriculture crop. One resident recalled how, as a young boy, he and his family would come to watch the guests go in, the women in long dresses, the men in suits and some in tuxedos. It was, he said, as good as watching the Oscars on television and that was before everyone had television.
It was a simpler time, but one where Hastings was a bustling farm town with car and tractor dealerships, a dress shop that brought women from half-a-dozen surrounding counties and corner grocery stores where clerks knew everyone’s name.
Today the building has lost most of its main roof and windows frames. Steel girders can be seen through the windows and weeds grow within the walls. A few metal roofs hang over entry ways where the public once entered. A chain link fence surrounds the building.
But the stark, simple lines of the building remain as a salute to the era’s architecture – a touch of elegance on Main Street.