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Youth Club Near Opening but Still Needs Money

May 30, 1985|LARRY GORDON | Times Staff Writer

No one ever expected it would be easy to build a Boys and Girls Club in Echo Park, a neighborhood with a surplus of poor youngsters but a shortage of wealthy benefactors. Still, no one, it seems, thought it would turn out this hard.

A series of construction problems has delayed the project's opening by at least nine months and pushed the budget an estimated $300,000 above its original $1.3 million, club officials said.

The new club, at Court and Patton streets, a few blocks south of Echo Park Lake, is 97% complete but still has to overcome some financial and building snags before the first basketball is thrown through a hoop.

Nevertheless, club supporters say they are determined to get everything straightened out soon because neighborhood youngsters need the place so much. The opening is now projected for July or August.

'It's Going to Open'

"Some way or another, it's going to open. We can't even think about an alternative. It's there and we are going to run it," said Joe Houser, president of the Boys Club of Hollywood, which will operate the Echo Park club as a satellite.

Susan Flores, the Los Angeles Community Development Department official overseeing the project, conceded that "it's been a long time" since the October, 1983, ground breaking but said she is "optimistic that the problems can be resolved in a timely fashion."

A 1981 city study found the Echo Park area--traditionally a home to new immigrants and turf for teen-age gangs--badly in need of extra recreational facilities for youth. So the city contacted the Boys Club Foundation of Southern California about opening a center there.

The city promised to provide $1.28 million from its federal Community Development block grant money, aimed at low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, for land acquisition and construction costs.

"Echo Park has for a long time qualified for these kinds of funds," Flores said.

In exchange for a dollar-a-year lease, the Boys Club is to provide staff and equip the building for a host of sports, crafts, health and educational programs for boys and girls ages 7 to 17.

The building, a two-story beige stucco structure topped with a red Spanish-style tile roof, is to have a regulation-sized basketball gymnasium, boys' and girls' locker rooms, weight-lifting equipment, game rooms, an arts and crafts shop, library and photo lab. There is a municipal swimming pool across the street.

2,000 Members Projected

About 200 boys from Echo Park regularly ride bikes or take buses to the Hollywood Boys Club, three miles away on De Longpre Avenue, Houser said. He said he expects that 300 to 500 boys and girls will visit the Echo Park club within its first week and that 2,000 youngsters will be members within a year.

"We're here to develop the youths, the full youths. When a youth comes in the front door, it doesn't matter who he is, whether he is a star basketball player or a kid who wants to study art. It doesn't matter whether his mother drives a Caddy or an old junker," Houser said.

"The neighborhood needs this very much," said Bill Garcia, a deputy to Councilman John Ferraro, whose 4th District covers much of Echo Park. "There is a very high transiency rate, about 25% in the local schools there. That shows the kids need some stability, something they can grab onto."

As for the problems facing the project, Garcia, who has tried to speed matters along, said: "I was a little shocked to see how much more money is involved. I just hope it turns out all right."

Appeal for Funds

Jim Stombock, senior regional service director for the Boys Club of America, said he is asking the city to find the extra $300,000 the club needs in Community Development funds. Flores said it appears likely that the city will give $100,000 now, enough to do the work needed for a certificate of occupancy and to get the doors open.

Much of the rest of the request involves rehabilitation of a rear alley, work which Flores said can wait. "Our priority is to complete the work on the building itself," she said.

Besides, the Boys Club needs to raise about $35,000 for equipment--everything from volleyball nets to desks--plus $55,000 for operating costs. The club has raised another $74,000 for the first year's operating costs and salaries, Stombock said. Four full-time staffers and several part-time workers are expected to be hired.

"What's difficult in an area like this, like Watts, like Pacoima, is that, while the area is of high need, it is very difficult to raise money in the area. What a Boys Club has to do is raise money elsewhere," Stombock said.

Catch-22 for Club

The construction delays have put the club into a Catch-22 situation, he said. Many potential donors, including some Echo Park businessmen, have said they will give money, but not until the doors are open.

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