The old Muchenberger Center building sits solemnly quiet today on the corner of fifth and Sycamore streets surrounded by weeks and overgrown brush.
Save for the sounds of chirping crickets, passing trains and the swoosh of traffic on the Interstate above its deathly quiet.
That’s quite a contrast for the centers heyday when the sounds of bouncing basketball and ping pong balls and children’s exuberant laughter and squeals filled the place.
Barbara Roberts who served as Muchenberger Center director for 12 years remembers the sounds well.
“Well, I remember a lot about the center, you know, how the kids enjoyed coming there,” she said.
Roberts also remembers how many of the 100 plus kids who visited the center daily that it was their only meal of the day.
“I went up to the USDA so the kids could have lunches down their because I remember going out and find this a little boy, he bought his lunch that day, and he laid it out on the wall. And a tomato sandwich is all he had to eat. And there was ants and stuff on it. So I decided then that these kids needed a good meal.”
Roberts said the center provided a safe place for children to get off the street that was free. Free was important for many of the kids who came from impoverished homes in the area.
Roberts said she sees many of the kids she knew from being at the center. They’re all grown up now some with kids of their own and they still remember her.
“They come up and hug me and tell me how they appreciated the things that I done down there and that makes me feel real good,” Roberts said.
What doesn’t make her feel good Roberts said is those kids in that area today have no similar place to go now.
“I think that the kids haven’t got an place now to go to where they didn’t have to pay the one thing about Muchenberger Center was that kids did not have to pay. It was donated to the city and the city did the upkeep on it,” Roberts said.
A recreation center was the idea of Leo and Annie Muchenberger when they sold the Muchenberger center building and property to the city for one dollar in 1936. The two story building had originally been used as a warehouse for the Muchenberger Brothers Wallpaper and Paint Company.
Between 1936 and 1938 Works Progress Administration workers worked with a local architect to modify the building and grounds to turn it from a factory into a recreational center.
The Muchenberger Center was was established with a goal to address a need for a community center in the surrounding underprivilidged neighborhood
The city raised money also to level the land for a multi-purpose playing field and playground and install a gymnasium floor as well as a stage, kitchen, restrooms with showers, a small office and first and second floor activity room.
Newspaper articles at the time reported Eleanor Roosevelt visiting the Muchenbereg site as she toured the country inspecting other WPA sites.
The center opened in 1938 and closed it’s doors is 2012 due to a crumbling interior and exterior and its proximity to a rail yard.
Chuck Kempf, city parks and rec director said it closed when the St. Joseph Rec Center opened which essentially was to replace Muchenberger.
“It was open many, many, many years, served the community in general, for a lot of those years. And then I think towards the end, it became, you know, more for youth,” Kempf said.
Kids would not just come from the immediate area surrounding Muchenberger but from other areas of town and even Elwood kansas.
Kemp remembers walking to Muchenberger himself as a kid who lived in midtown.
“I typically went down to play ping pong or basketball or something, and, but I know that there were other functions down there, there were dances, there were community events, they had summer, summer playground programs down there when those were popular. And so it you know, it just really served a lot of purpose,” Kempf said.
The place holds lots of memories for many St. Joseph and surrounding area citizens Kempf added.
“Anybody that you talk to what’s always stood out to me about that facility, there was a lot of memories, a lot of affection from that neighborhood, from that community for that facility,” Kempf said while adding that there was frustration initially when Muchenberger closed because people were hanging on to those memories.
“It was time of course, when it was closed in 2012. The building was not in good shape, wasn’t ADA compliant had a lot of challenges physically and wasn’t really big enough to serve modern needs,” Kempf said.
It also was in a dangerous location. Muchenberger center sat next to a rail yard with trains running by the front door at least 20 times a day. In the early years before the interstate was built children had to walk through the rail yard to get to the center
The building and land was eventually sold to a private investor.
“After we sold the building we kind of had a regret, we would like to have part of the basketball floor to possibly place in the Rec Center, “Kempf said.
Andy Clements city director of public works and transportation, said the city recently authorized the purchase of the building and land at a price of around $39,0000 Clements said.
Currently the city is waiting to close on the purchase.
The plan is to first demolish the building and build a new structure for a different use, Clements said. Soon all that will be left there is memories.
“We will be moving our sewer maintenance facility in a few years down to that area,” Clements said..