A group of Mount Washington residents who successfully fought to reopen a local recreation center in the 1970s is rallying to keep the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department from once again closing the facility.
Once a hub of activity in Mount Washington, Carlin G. Smith Recreation Center in recent years has experienced a drastic decline in attendance. At a meeting Monday of the Mount Washington Assn., an active homeowners group in the hillside community of northeast Los Angeles, a recreation department official said it is too costly to keep the facility open when virtually no one is using it.
Jack Perez, recreation superintendent for the area, told the group of about 70 that it would be up to the community to revitalize Smith Center in the next few months or he would recommend closing it. He said that something must be done to attract more than the 15 to 20 people that he said now participate in park activities during an average week.
Awaiting Group's Direction
"I'm sort of waiting your direction on how we should proceed here," Perez said. "I'm not in the business of closing this facility. I want to keep the facility open."
The center, at 511 W. Avenue 46, is now open Monday through Saturday at various hours, according to Winifred Ashford, its director.
Named after a developer who donated the land to the city, the center is situated in a park that runs the length of a steep winding hill and is dominated by a sloping ravine filled with trees and bushes in character with the country atmosphere of Mount Washington. Because of its rustic location, the park has no athletic field but does contain playground equipment--a jungle gym, slides, swings--and a small basketball court.
Established more than 50 years ago, the park's center is one of the oldest in the city, although it was closed for a three-year period in the early 1970s because of poor attendance. In 1974, community activists from the Mount Washington Assn. persuaded the recreation department to reopen the center. The group then refurbished the park's badly vandalized two-story wooden recreation building.
Besides traditional recreational activities, the largely upper-middle-class community held literary club meetings, art shows, potluck dinners, bingo games, dances and a variety of adult education classes. But such activity has waned.
By the end of Monday's nearly 90-minute discussion, the residents agreed to form an advisory committee to meet with Perez. Perez said no formal decision to close the facility has been made. That would require a vote of the recreation department's Board of Commissioners, he said.
Some people complained that a personality conflict with Ashford, who came to Smith Center four years ago, has led to the decline in community participation. They claimed that Ashford won't cooperate in providing a variety of programs for children and adults, preferring to emphasize gymnastics and dance classes that attract mostly young girls.
"We've tried to get other things offered and we've met up against a stone wall," said Sherrie Comins, a longtime Mount Washington resident who spoke at the meeting.
Others said Ashford has not done enough to advertise what adult programs the center has offered, such as an aerobics class begun last fall that soon died for lack of attendance. Ashford said she has relied mainly on distributing flyers at public schools and placing advertisements in a local paper to publicize park activities.
Volunteers Are Needed
She told the association she is willing to work with its members to get the word out to more people and to offer a better variety of programs. But volunteers would be needed to conduct those programs, she added. Ashford later told a reporter that, contrary to what some people said at the meeting, members of the community have not made many offers to volunteer.
"They have not come forward to me at all," she said.
Ashford also contends that after-school activities held at nearby Mount Washington Elementary School have competed with activities at Smith Center.
Perez said in an interview that he would consider replacing Ashford if the local advisory committee makes such a request and persuades him that another director would improve attendance at Smith Center. But, he added, "at this time we are not talking about doing that."
Perez said he expects that talk of closing the center will once again spur the community to act.
"I've seen it happen before," he said.
By the end of the meeting, 19 people had signed up for the advisory committee and another seven had expressed a willingness to become program volunteers.