Alonzo Weston

I heard the rumors two weeks ago that they were tearing down the Muchenberger Center. City officials told me last summer.

But there I was Sunday afternoon at Sixth and Hickory streets, going to take a look for myself.

I slowly crept down the street, afraid to look to the left and see the red brick building in rubble. When I got there, all that was left was an empty lot and a parking lot that’s been crumbling for years.

The Muchenberger Center had been crumbling for decades. When I visited there some years ago, lots of kids played in the gym and the yard. Red paint peeled off the exterior of the building, and fist-size holes punctuated the walls.

Air conditioning was provided courtesy of a rickety metal door propped open by a cigarette-butt can. Trains ran by the front door more than 20 times a day.

Not safe for kids by any means, but it was all some kids had. More than 70 kids used the facility on any given day.

The Muchenberger Center is a huge part of many people’s memories in this town.

As I sat outisde in the parking lot Sunday, I swear I could hear screams and shouts left over from inside a building no longer standing. They were the sounds of countless kids through the generations who called the Muchenberger Center home.

As teens, Andy Chavez and I walked from our Midtown homes to play ball at Muchenberger every Friday evening. Even then before the interstate was built you had to walk across a block’s worth of railroad tracks to get to the building.

Jesse Barbosa and John and Jimmy Cathcart rung up the scoreboard with their barrage of shots at the basket on a court where if you did a layup at one end you wound up on a stage. At the other end was a door.

Big John Lucas taught boxing there. Willie Bernard and Tony Marsola kept order. Barb Roberts provided the heart.

St. Joseph Parks and Recreation was charged with the upkeep of the building ever since local businessman Leo Munchenberger donated his former wallpaper and paint factory to the city in 1936.

In the early days, the nearby Mexican community utilized the facility for dances and other social functions. Soon kids and adults from all over town, along with those from Elwood, Wathena and Savannah, made it their home away from home.

The city eventually built a shiny new recreation center not far from the Muchenberger Center. I rarely go to the new facility, but it appears to be well used. I doubt it has the same character as Muchenberger.

A lot of history and memories were torn down and demolished with the demise of the Muchenberger Center. It was painful to see what once was in my mind’s eye and what is now an empty lot.

The history and the memories still live in our minds.

One thing about history and time is that things change. Change sometimes causes pain. I choked back a tear as I drove away from what once was Muchenburger Center Sunday.

Alonzo Weston can be reached


Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWesto