The Stinson Beach Community Center is composed of three buildings, the Fire House, the Community Center Hall and the Community Chapel, governed by a corporation, The Stinson Beach Community Center, Inc. whose members are elected representatives of the active organizations in the village.
In the early days, as people began to arrive and settle in the hamlet at the end of the Dipsea Trail, they called for a place to maintain the health and safety of the community and visitors, a common place for charitable, social, educational and recreational purposes, and a place for religious worship.
In the 1930s the Stinson sisters, Miss Maude Stinson, Mrs. Eva Stinson Fitzhenry and Mrs. Lillian Stinson Hensill, offered Block 6 of Subdivision 1 for a Commmunity Center. One of the first leaders of the center explained, "During the 30s and the 40s there were no organizations large or rich enough to hold and maintain the property."
By 1947, four organizations had become active in the village. The Volunteer Firemen had just purchased a new fire truck, formed a fire district, and had a strong, active voluntary firemen's group. The Progressive Club (the predecessor of the Village Association) was holding monthly meetings to encourage community improvements and input in county planning for roads, lighting, house numbering, litter control, and open hours for the library. The Church Group was growing and holding church services and Sunday School. The many units of the Allied Arts were active. In May of that year representatives from each of these community groups formed a corporation and accepted the land offered by the Stinson family. These first directors started the organization which would provide Stinson Beach with a fire house, a community center hall, and a chapel. A local architect provided plans for the complex.
Many followed these first leaders with equal vision, faith and commitment. As one annual report mentions, "it has always been an unwritten law through the years that no one individual or individuals be singled out for special commendation for their work and cooperation in Community Center matters." Therefore, this article will not mention volunteers by name but show the amount of time many have given to the complex to make it a vital center of the community.
Fund raising for the buildings started with the first carnival held in 1947. The Marin County Board of Supervisors granted use of the County Park (now GGNRA), and the most needed structure, the Fire House, was started with funds earned by this event. Active volunteers provided a raffle, booths with games of chance, and a bathing beauty contest.
The complex was built on a pay-as-you-go basis. Funds derived from the carnivals bought building materials, the men of the community provided the labor. The construction was accomplished on week ends, with the men busy with hammer and saw and the women cooking and serving them lunches. Everyone pitched in and helped in his or her own way. Through it all there was a great spirit of cooperation and satisfaction.
The Fire House was completed and dedicated in 1949. It cost $3,740 ($3.21 per square foot or 1/4 the normal cost at the time). The Fire Department used its own funds to complete the ceiling and interior. At the Fire House meetings, many problems, such as the need for equipment for Unit #1, were "discussed at some length" as one secretary wrote. Eventually unanimous decisions were made about issues from purchasing a stove to new fire equipment.
The Parent Teachers Club sponsored events for teenagers and young adults and joined the Community Center Board. Although each organization paid rent to cover the utilities, the youth groups, the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Campfire Girls and Teen Dancing group, paid no fees. Later the PTC would sponsor the preschool.
Ground breaking for the second unit, the Community Center Hall, was on April 5, 1952. It was completed in 1953 with $17,000 in materials, 9,682 man hours of labor, and 1,675 meals for workers prepared by Allied Arts. The building inspectors told the President that "it was a pleasure to inspect the building as everything was done so well and all in such good order." Also in 1952 the county changed the course of the creek as its former course was endangering the Firehouse. The State gave dirt to make a fill in this area, thus creating a large level space in back of the two buildings.
Fund Raising was essential for all the projects. The 1952 Fourth of July Celebration included "two nights of fireworks, the rough water swim and three days of Carnival games, refreshment and FUN." The Fourth Celebrations and the Allied Arts Rummage Sales were the central fund raising events, but Bingo Parties, Card Parties, Dances for all ages, Plays, Casino nights, Barbeques, and individual donations of money and materials all made the Center possible...all produced by dedicated volunteers.
A story line of ongoing expenses continues through the center's history... utilities, insurance, taxes, lighting, repainting, gutter repair, septic tank attention, floor repair, wiring, creek flow, landscaping, flood and storm repair, furnishings for the kitchen and hall. Allied Arts and theater groups often expressed their needs for storage. These problems were always "discussed at length" with decisions agreed upon and action following.
The Flood of 1956 threatened the main hall's existence. A crew of local volunteers were named "Property Protectors" for all their hard work to fight the water and mud from the storm.
In 1962 the Community Chapel was completed, again with volunteers and fund raisers, and was dedicated at a special service. In 1997 a Bell Tower was dedicated to house the bell which was forged in 1880 and had been donated to the center. This gift was one of many with which locals beautified each building of the Community Center. The flagpole, the stained glass window in the chapel, a mural painted by a local artist, and a clock for the hall were all gifts and memorials to the Center.
In 1970 a preschool was started with a teacher sent out by the YMCA. Equipment, removable walls, and a play yard were built by parents. This has grown over the years with local teachers hired and funded by a Silent Auction, Breakfasts, and parent contributions until it, the Montessori School, successfully moved to the present location, within the Stinson Beach School.
Community Center statistics show how much the community has used the Center. The House Committee reports show uses ranged from 151 in 1968 to 947 in 1989. These include meetings of the member organizations, fund raisers, nursery school, senior lunches, Wildflower Show, youth groups (Boy Scouts, Cubs, Campfire Girls, and Teen Dances), preschool, Farm Extension classes, art exhibits, First Aid instruction, plays, musical events, Christmas Parties with Santa, Holiday Bazaars, Halloween Parties with Haunted House, candidates' nights and elections, memorial services, art shows, exercise classes, private parties and weddings, Red Cross classes, Sea Drift meetings, chorus rehearsals and performances, as well as preparations for a disaster center. A sign of the changing times was when the Firemen's Ball became the Firefighters' Ball. With all this use, the buildings need continuing upkeep and maintenance ...lighting, interior painting, sprinkler system, drain and counter repair in the kitchen, new floors in the restrooms, new stove, rebuilding the play year, stabilization of the creek bed, gutter repair, and floor refinishing. Added to these expenses are the utilities, insurance and taxes. In the 80's one of the directors said, "For the first time, the expenses are now approaching our income and will soon surpass it." Times kept changing.
During the Storm of 1983 the Community Center was used as a disaster shelter for housing the sixty CCC workers and providing two hot meals and a bag lunch for each worker, as well as a center for local needs. After the storm, the Fire Chief issued this resolution: "Whereas: we are all tired of the rain, flooding, mud, failing septic systems, etc., be it resolved that we have a SURVIVORS BALL...and at the same time, we'll replenish Community Center and Volunteer Fire Department funds, sorely depleted by expenses incurred during the emergency." The community uses the Center for both their good times and their hard times. Some things never change.
In the early 1990s the Board created the Village Green Oversight Committee to help with the town project of building a park downtown. They adopted a Five Year Reserve Study and an annual budgeting process, instigated a new Board structure, as well as hired a manager. The problems of seismic safety, lighting, carpeting the church, and new equipment needs were addressed. The church basement was cleaned and redecorated for use as a gallery and classes and now being used as the youth center. Continued and increased community involvement was a priority with adult education classes encouraged while at the same time active advertising for rentals for weddings and parties was added to the fund raising activities.
In the later half of the 1990s, the new Board succeeded in obtaining grant money for needed maintenance of toilets, floors, painting, safety windows, a new chapel heating system and improvements to preserve the septic system. the President obtained $15,000 annually from the discretionary funds of the County Supervisor.
Fund raising still combines with community events. The SBMM Party drew the community together to celebrate, and the profits of $12,000 were donated by the Millenium Committee for the continuing upkeep and improvement of the Center. Although Allied Arts has disbanded, it gave its last donations of $15,000 for the roof-fund and $3,000 to beautify the front exterior. Its traditional holiday luncheon has been continued by the SB Historical Society.
New plans are being designed to meet the current needs of the community. As always, all groups in town are being encouraged to express their continuing and changing needs. In 2006 the SB Historical Society was granted to build the climate controlled archival storage inside of the Community Center.
Throughout the history of the Stinson Beach Community Center, Inc., each volunteer has been important, and each has contributed to our community. Even though times change, there will always be a continued need for involvement. A final quote from an annual report reminds us, "However interested we may become in our separate organization, let us not forget that we are part of a bigger one, the SBCC, Inc."
Information in this article was compiled by community effort from Annual Meeting Reports, Minutes and Annual Letters to the community of the Stinson Beach Community Center, Inc. dating from 1947-2000 as well as notes of Board members and newspaper articles.
For more information on the Community Center Inc., see the Stinson Beach Historical Society's publication, The Stinson Beach Allied Arts, and archives. In the future histories of each organization will be published.
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