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Second time's the charm with new senior center

The old Barksdale Center had problems with plumbing and parking. Its sparkling, $1.5-million replacement was dedicated Friday.

By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 8, 2002


TAMPA -- It was a Sentimental Journey but they were In the Mood.

Backed by the big band sounds of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, hundreds of seniors packed a ballroom Friday to dedicate the $1.5-million David Barksdale Senior Center.

The 16-piece Shades of Blue Orchestra drew them to the dance floor as earlier bands had once drawn them to the North Boulevard Teen Center, the first building named for Barksdale, longtime Tampa recreation director.

The dancers included the very first Miss Tampa, Patty Tallant Hare, crowned in 1946. The staff included 84-year-old aerobics teacher Sara Denton, hired by Barksdale in 1961.

Charlie Miranda told tales of the original Barksdale Center. He remembered nights there holding hands with girls and thinking he was getting away with something.

"It was the first time I heard the Fabulous Rockers," he told the audience, referring to the '50s and '60s band.

"It was our hangout," said City Councilwoman Mary Alvarez, who spoke next. "We'd go to meet the boys on Tuesdays and Wednesdays."

The center aged with them, changing its focus from frisky teens to busy retirees.

The old Barksdale Center, bought by the University of Tampa, was on North Boulevard near Pepin-Rood Stadium.

The 14,000-square-foot replacement sits on the grounds of West Tampa's MacFarlane Park, making its design a special one for architect Sol Fleischman Jr., whose park memories include soap box derbies with his dad.

"I played my first game of golf right here at MacFarlane Park," Fleischman recalled.

David Barksdale, a Tampa native, retired as deputy director of the Tampa Recreation Department in 1982.

He oversaw construction of nine recreation centers, eight public swimming pools and 50 tennis courts.

"He started at $1 a week sweeping courts at Sligh Avenue Park in 1942," said Frances Stevens Barksdale, 70.

She met him at the center that would later bear his name. She was a playground director and he was an umpire. They married in 1952 and had four children. The original teen center was renamed for Barksdale in 1993. He died of cancer at age 67 the next year. "He would have been happy to see this," his son, Jody Barksdale, said.

The Mediterranean-style building at 1801 N Lincoln Ave. includes a kitchen and dining room, a computer lab with nine workstations and a ballroom with an elevated stage.

Card tables and a pool table fill the game room, and soon the wellness room will be furnished with exercise machines. The arts and crafts room will offer ceramics, woodworking, fine arts and calligraphy classes.

There's a tile mosaic on the entryway floor and a fresco glass transom, both designed by Raymond Olivero as part of the city's public art program.

"This is a very bright, happy building," said center director Patty Menendez.

It houses programs from Lighthouse for the Blind, the Bay Area Deaf Service Center, Hillsborough County Aging Services and the Senior Nutrition Activity Program.

Menendez plans to keep the activities calendar filled with bunco games, yoga, stretching classes, aerobics, tai chi and line dancing.

"Every Wednesday is a party, usually in the morning," Menendez said.

The new center bears little resemblance to the old one, where lights flickered and plumbing failed, often in the middle of a party. Parking was problematic. City officials proposed renovating the 1942 building, but then the University of Tampa offered to buy it.

The city looked for a new site. Sandy Fiallo, the center's supervisor, suggested MacFarlane Park, centrally located and near public transportation.

Construction money came from Mayor Dick Greco's 1999 bond issue, which earmarked $17-million to improve 17 city recreation centers, including Barksdale.

-- Amy Scherzer can be reached at 226-3332 or scherzer@sptimes.com.

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