Pine Village Gym: “Progress” Goes Before a Fall

“It’s a historical building, but I guess it’s progress,” said Marv Blessing, an alumnus of Pine Village High School, in a recent article with IndyStar about the imminent destruction of their marvelous gym. Little pains me more than to hear this continuing assertion that demolition is necessary for “progress.” Why do so many buy into this frustrating fallacy? I had never seen this WPA gem, three-dimensional historical document, so when an archaeologist friend alerted me, I hurried up to pay it homage.

Slated to be torn down in March, the Pine Village gym and community center was constructed by the Work Projects Administration in 1940, and is much loved and was much used until recently. It was built next to the old high school, which succumbed to fire just a few years later. That school’s replacement, which eventually became the elementary school, stands in front of the gym and is soon to be demolished as well.

Pine Village is about 30 miles west of Lafayette in west central Indiana. The town serves a farming community and is home to only a little over 200 people. You can stand in the middle of the intersection of state highways 26 and 55 and see the edge of town just a couple blocks away in all directions. Much of the town’s identity and heritage are tied to this gym and community center, a place where local folks still gather. It was home to the tiny but mighty Pine Knots basketball team that won the basketball sectional in 1972–the smallest community team ever to do so. (Remember, basketball is very important in Indiana). That was the year before Pine Village’s high school was consolidated into a larger district. 

Most folks in town think it’s shame to lose the building, but what can they do? 

Stunned at the sight of it, I dashed around the building trying to get some photographs of the interior through the entrance sidelights. Then, a young man walked up and offered to open the door for me. Devon Dixon is the school custodian and, like everyone I talked to in town, an alumnus of the high school. The gym was immaculate; the day I was there one more basketball game remained on the schedule. I later learned it was packed not only with fans but people wanting to say goodbye.

Stories vary as to why this beloved building must go, but it all boils down to money. The roof is only a few years old, yet the custodian showed me the black mold on one wall of the band room and leaks elsewhere. I may be an outsider, but this suggested a problem that should have been  taken up with the contractor who installed the roof. There may be boiler issues, as well. 

So, for the lack of funds for maintenance, another beautiful New Deal structure will be lost. Gymnasiums-cum-community centers were some of the most beautiful buildings constructed by the WPA, yet we have lost more of these than any other resource. 

Worse, this is not one that has been abandoned for years but a well-used building that is the beating heart of the community.  Furthermore, many in the town of Pine Village would like to see the building saved and think its upkeep would be a good investment.

What a tragedy to lose this gem, which is clearly eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It breaks my heart.

Glory-June Greiff is a public historian based in Indianapolis. She has been researching the work of New Deal for 35 years.

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