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Community News: Central

CHINATOWN : Recreation Center to Get Needed Space

June 04, 1995

For years, young and old in densely populated Chinatown have jammed into the tiny Alpine Recreation Center, using it for everything from basketball and after-school day care to Chinese chess, ballet lessons and citizenship classes.

But the Yale Street center is undergoing a $1.9-million expansion that will include a full-size gymnasium with bleachers, a new play area, lobby, gazebo and more storage space.

"I think this will open it up and it will be able to accommodate more of the area's recreation needs," said Don Toy, a member of the parks' advisory board. "There is not a lot of open space in Chinatown."

Although initial ground clearing began a few months ago, a ground-breaking ceremony is planned at noon June 19. Construction is expected to take a year.

Because the center, built on a square, block-long patch of land in the 1950s, is the only recreation center or park in Chinatown, it is one of the busiest in the city and boasts the longest hours. The center is open seven days a week, usually from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., but the gymnasium stays open until midnight two days a week.

A typical day at the park begins at 6 a.m. with tai chi exercises and continues with a Head Start class. By afternoon, the center is home to a bustling after-school program. In the evening the center hosts adult basketball games and Chinese folk-dancing classes.

By the end of the week, anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000 adults and children have passed through the doors, said director Jan Lundrum, walking through the center's multipurpose room, where 90 children were doing their homework.

Many of the center's improvements are designed to reflect the Chinatown community. The new Asian-style portico will be painted green and red, the Chinese colors of good luck.

A new gazebo, where people can play Chinese chess and other board games, will be designed in the shape of a Chinese fan.

An expansion in 1989 added 5,600 square feet to the multipurpose room and stage area, said Susan Totaro, an official with the Community Redevelopment Agency.

But there was not enough money to build a gymnasium with bleachers, and the community has been waiting for the funds--a combination of city and redevelopment agency money--to come together, Totaro said.

Toy said Chinatown's lack of space is so severe that the city has agreed to allow the closure of Yale Street in front of the center between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. The street, between Alpine and College streets, runs between Castelar Elementary School and the center.

The street has been closed during these hours since January.

Toy said the goal is to eventually use the closed street as permanent recreation space. But the temporary closure is needed to determine the effect on nearby businesses and apartments.

"We want to be fair in terms of the community," Toy said.

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