When owners of a large former furniture factory, at First Avenue and Franklin street in Evansville came to him and offered to permit the WPA to use the building rent-free, Jennings took immediate steps to accept the offer. With his typical foresight he saw the wonderful possibilities the building offered as a center for recreational activity.
WPA workers were put to work renovating the building. They installed horse shoe and ping-pong courts and built archery and rifle ranges. There were extensive facilities for dancing and roller skating and scores of other recreational activities. When the building was opened to public inspection for the first times more than 15,000 persons visited the community center.
Evansville newspapers were enthusiastic about the new civic center. "As the public gets more familiar with the purpose and accomplishments of the Community Center, the impression grows that it may easily become one of the most valuable of the enterprises of the last few years, carried out with public funds to aid in the relief of the unemployed," the Evansville Press stated.
"For the Civic Center, to emphasize only one phase of its work, has provided wholesome outlet for youthful energies which are readily diverted into dangerous channels.
"Here is a place where, regardless of social or economic standing, children can dance, skate, play games, far from the evil influences which are inclined to exist in and around every city. But they may be driven to them for lack of any other place to go.
"The Community Center, made possible by WPA funds and the vision of those in charge of unemployment relief, is one of the few of its kind in the country and has attracted national attention.
Scripps Howard's roving correspondent, Ernie Pyle, after visiting the Center, described it as the "biggest and finest work-play center in the country."
"It is a tremendous success," he said. "You don't have to be on relief to go there and play. In fact, they discourage any such idea, and the result is that hundreds, and even thousands come there every night, with plenty of well-to-do people among them too.
"From 6 until 10:30 at night, the recreation center is the liveliest, gayest, happiest, spot in all Evansville. I recommend it to all cities that don't know what to do with their people."
(Source:Work Relief Under John K. Jennings, 1931-1939. Chapter II, Evansville District Director.)
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