KP Civic Center Celebrates 60 Years of Service: Part I


Colleen Slater

The Key Peninsula Civic Center Association turns 60 years old this year in a building that mostly turned 80 while parts of it turned 100. The association was founded in 1956, but the buildings have another 40 years of history behind them.

The mission of the civic center is to foster the civic, social, cultural and general well-being of the Key Peninsula community. It supports many organizations with discounted rentals and other services, and hosts unifying events like the Lions Club Citizen of the Year banquet and Club Cosmic Skate Night. It is home to essential and iconic organizations. Through the work of many volunteers and the management of its board of directors, the civic center plays an essential role in KP life.

But it almost didn't happen.

In October 1955, a group of Key Penners met in the Glencove Community Hall to decide what to do about the 50-year-old empty school building at the head of Vaughn Bay. The school district had decided not to pour more money into it and instead built a new Vaughn Elementary near its current location on Hall Road.

The district wanted $8,400 for the aging building, all cash.

A committee was formed to find a solution and raise the money. A local man named O.S. (Ollie) Whitmore was appointed to lead the effort.

In 1906, the community had built a one-room high school at the head of the bay. That one room grew over the years into the part of the civic center now called the Whitmore Room.

A second room was added to the original in 1916, and a brick-faced building later called the Annex was built behind it for classrooms, kitchen and storage. The Annex now houses the VFW Room, KP Historical Society, KP News and civic center offices, and is home to the civic center caretaker. A basement with student showers was added to the original school building around 1920 and now serves as offices for the Children's Home Society.

The Mothers' Congress volunteered their sons and husbands to construct a dirt tennis court near the Annex. There were no barriers around the court, so many balls were chased out of bounds. People of all ages converged on the courts to play on weekends, then as now. Poles with baskets lined the unpaved Hall Road for basketball games.

Electric lights were installed in the buildings by 1927 and high school attendance in 1938 reached over 100 for the first time.

The new gymnasium was built in 1937, including the stage, balcony and bathrooms, with the help of the federal Works Progress Administration and much volunteer labor. The first extra millage was used for the floor, a regulation-size basketball court still in use today.

The original building with its additions and gym served as the high school until 1947, when Vaughn joined Gig Harbor Union to form Peninsula High School at Purdy. A two-story elementary school, built in 1923 on what is now the parking lot, moved into the old high school building in 1947.

Within a few years, the building was no longer considered safe as a school. Instead of spending more money on it, the district constructed a new facility nearby in 1955.

The playfield where the new Vaughn Elementary School was built on Hall Road (preceding the current building on higher ground) was a neighborhood donation from the Good Roads Club, including the volunteer labor and teamwork of many community members.

There was much discussion and indecision about what to do with the now-defunct high school building. The school board would not accept any offer from the community of less than 90 percent of the appraised value of $9,325 and insisted on cash.

The community didn't have it.

Ollie Whitmore called his banker to pitch an unconventional idea.

This is the first of two-part article; you can read Part II here.