In years of varied use, Stanton building remains vital ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY--Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

April 12, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Sally Bean learned to read in the same room in which she now supervises teen-age dances.

She lingered on the same steps in front of the Stanton Community Center that still draw crowds of children eating ice cream on sunny summer days.

For Ms. Bean and many other residents of the Clay Street neighborhood in downtown Annapolis, the worn brick building has been a lifelong focal point.

The Stanton Center, with its long and colorful history, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. But the community center actually can trace its roots all the way to 1869, when the property was a primary school, the first public school for blacks in Annapolis after the Civil War.

Time after time, the two-story building has languished, then rebounded.

Now the rooms of the Stanton Center are a bit fusty, the paint is chipping and the old carpet is streaked with dirt. But Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins has included $227,000 in his proposed $11 million capital improvement budget to spruce it up and replace the leaking roof.

Named for Edwin Stanton, a lawyer who supported anti-slavery efforts as Attorney General under President James Buchanan in 1860, and later as Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln, the original structure was built on West Washington Street between 1881 and 1893. A second story was added between 1913 and 1921, after a fire damaged the building.

In 1919, it was expanded to include a high school, the first for blacks in Anne Arundel County. Elementary and high school classes were taught there until the Wiley H. Bates High School was built on Smithville Street in 1932.

The Stanton School was closed in 1964, as the county's public schools were integrated. The building fell in to disrepair and was used only for storage until 1968, when it was refurbished as a community center -- part of an urban renewal program to revitalize the neighborhood.

"Even after this building was condemned, we came here," Ms. Bean recalls. "We made use of the marble steps. It was a cool place to be on a hot day."

But the promises of better jobs and better housing were never fulfilled. In fact, Mayor Hopkins and other Annapolis officials now blame the bulldozers of urban renewal for destroying a once-thriving black community.

The eight-block neighborhood that is now impoverished and drug-plagued was once the home of grocery shops, doctors' offices, a movie theater and two hotels. Famous entertainers such as blues singer Billie Holiday visited.

"When urban renewal came along, it almost obliterated this area," Mr. Hopkins says. "It brought a parking garage."

The Stanton Center has helped bridge the gap. Today, it houses a gym with a basketball court, a half-dozen recreation programs and community services. Among them are Healthy Teens, a teen-age pregnancy prevention program, an outreach effort for troubled youths, and after-school tutoring sessions.

"You name it, we got it," says George Belt, the recreation director who teaches everything from roller skating to basketball in the gym and leads a Bible-study class.

Ms. Bean has organized dances for teen-agers who are bored on the weekends. And Norman Brailey, the director of the center, has organized wedding receptions there.

"This facility is more than a community center," he says. "It's key to keeping our kids off the street. We provide a very, very safe environment."

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