It may be called the Fair Haven Community Center now, but people know it as the Youth Center — just the Youth Center. Different name. Same place.
It's that yellow-hued cement fixture on Fisk Street where the police station is housed. It's a staple gathering place for community activities. It's the warming center in a storm. It's also steeped in borough history.
If you've been around town long enough, you probably have some sort of Youth Center memory. You may remember something as simple as registering your kids for soccer or baseball there.
You also may remember something as freakishly ancient as being toted down the street on a rope (yes, a rope) with other kids to the place daily to go to kindergarten.
Quite a few Fair Havenites have that time-warped flashback. They also have the memories of walking up the wide, barren, echoing hallway staircase inside to a giant room with a divider, each side housing a kindergarten class. That's all sectioned off into rooms now as the police station.
The bathroom was downstairs in what looked, to a 5-year-old, like a dark, dank dungeon where, if there ever was a boogeyman, that's where he'd be. That's where all the activities now take place and have for many years.
That was in the, ahem, 1960s, when there were station wagons with wood paneling instead of SUVs and kids walked to school.
But the Youth Center days go back much further than that, according to historical records. It was built in 1927 as a "fireproof school," thus the cement, after what was the segregated Fisk Street School burned.
It remained a segregated "black school" for the next 20 years, until the late 1940s, after which it became the activity center it is now, but on both floors. The kindergarten classes in half-day sessions were also held there.
"In 1926 the Fisk Street School was destroyed by fire of a suspicious origin," according to literature written and cataloged by the late Fair Haven Historian Tim McMahon. "Effective work by the Fair Haven Volunteer Fire Co., assisted by Rumson, saved the adjoining parsonage and Fisk Chapel itself.
"The sixty students of the school met for classes in the Fisk Chapel parish house, located behind the chapel. A new fireproof schoolhouse opened in 1927, and for the next 20 years served as a Black school.
"After desegregation, the schoolhouse became a hall for public activities called the Youth Center in 1954, and in 1985 was remodeled to also house the Fair Haven Police Department."
So, why bother changing the name after all these years?
"We just thought that the new name more accurately reflects its present function," Mayor Ben Lucarelli said. "Certainly, programs for the youth of the town are conducted there, but we also have our senior activities there and many other things. Honestly, too, with the name reflecting a place where such a variety of activities are held, it puts us in a better position to obtain grants to help keep these things going — and we're proud of our programs."
In the end, though, it's not really all in a name, Lucarelli said. It's still the same place where the same borough activities are housed.
So, what do you think? Will you still call it the Youth Center? Or do you think Fair Haven Community Center is better? Tell us your stories about the Youth Center.