If you’ve lived in Brookfield or the surrounding area for any length of time, you’ve driven or walked past the Hollywood Community House countless times. But chances are you’ve never been inside.
It’s such a fixture, it’s become part of the scenery along with Hollywood School next door, and the high school’s Shuey Stadium and the Brookfield Zoo South Gate entrance on Washington Avenue.
But as the Hollywood Community House approaches its 100th birthday – that’ll take place in 2020 – the group that serves as volunteer caretakers are looking to the rest of the Hollywood neighborhood to help them chart its future.
“We want to talk about what this house means to you,” said Gonzo Schexnayder, who will soon become the newest president of the Hollywood Citizens Association.
Meri Lauterbach, an association board member who has been active in taking care of the building since 1986, said they’re planning to host a meeting for residents of the neighborhood in May and get straight to the point. The date for the meeting hasn’t been set yet.
“What do you want to see happen to the Community House?” she said.
Does the neighborhood want to save the local landmark and make it of even greater benefit or would they just as soon “sell it to the school district, the zoo, or tear it down and sell it to a developer?” Lauterbach said.
“This is a big piece of Hollywood history,” said the 63-year-old Lauterbach, who also serves as the property’s groundskeeper. “It all takes people, money and time, and it can’t just be the five of us doing it.”
The “five” Lauterbach is referring to form the core group of people who have, by default really, been appointed the building’s stewards. The group includes Lauterbach; Schexnayder, who also built and maintains the association’s website; Dan Stivers, the outgoing president; and Rich and Nancy Korzyniewski, who have been active in the association for some 35 years.
Others have come on board more recently, but at most the association’s list of active members struggles to reach a dozen people.
“The push is, what is going to drive people to care enough to jump in and do what we do?” Lauterbach said.
It’s not that the group is tired of the responsibility, said Stivers. It’s a labor of love. But the group feels that the building could contribute more to the community. Right now it’s basically a rental facility, booked pretty solidly on weekends. People are attracted to the low cost of rentals – $60 per hour for non-residents, $50 an hour for association members. If you need to prepare food, there’s a kitchen in the basement.
But according to Lauterbach, the people renting the hall are mainly out-of-towners who host birthday, baptism and graduation parties there. The house has been known to host wedding receptions as well.
In recent weeks a local woman has begun a series of kids’ music classes at the hall on weekdays, something the association members are excited about because it hearkens back to one of the original uses of the building – education.
For almost a decade until Hollywood School was built next door in 1929, the Hollywood Community House served as the local school. And the house served as the neighborhood kindergarten until 1959, when an addition was built on the school.
Actually, the association and its building have close links to Hollywood School, partly because of property rights issues. For example, while the school has its own parking lot, it is accessible only via a driveway owned by the association.
And the playground that school kids use at recess? It’s on association land, although it’s insured by the school district. That relationship came in handy a few years ago when a child was hurt on that playground and the parents sued the association for $50,000.
The suit was settled for a much lower amount and the school district’s insurance carrier handled the settlement, but it sent a scare through the association, which runs a pretty break-even operation.
The association has functioned best when school families have participated actively. The Korzyniewskis and Lauterbach remember resurgence when they were young parents with kids at the school. The Hollywood PTA was a source of volunteers and ideas. For a time the association formed a 4H group that did work days at the zoo.
But as their kids grew up, they weren’t replaced on the board by new parents at the school, and the responsibility for maintaining the house and organizing its fundraisers fell to them, permanently.
Schexnayder says the association has made new inroads with the PTA. One PTA member, Jennifer Perry, is now on the association board. Her husband, Art, is a District 96 board member. Meanwhile, PTA member Sue Gersch is a now chairwoman of the association’s membership committee.
Membership in the association remains pretty strong, with a couple of hundred members paying their annual $20 dues and helping raise some money. The annual pancake breakfast and the holiday wreath sale also help raise funds. Rentals bring in about $600 a month.
All of that goes toward maintenance of the century-old building. In recent years, the building has gotten a new roof and has been tuckpointed. Recently, the association put a new steel security door on the rear entrance after the old one was damaged by people trying to pry it open.
It takes about $11,000 to cover basic maintenance costs each year, says Rich Korzyniewski, treasurer of the Hollywood Citizens Association.
Next in line for attention is the tile floor of the main meeting hall inside the building and new storm windows. The trim could use painting as well.
“It takes about three years to build up [funds] to do special projects,” said Korzyniewski, who lives just down Hollywood Avenue from the building.
What the association wants more than anything is to stop running in place. They see the house as a place that could contribute more to the community, but that’s going to take the efforts of more than the core group.
“We’re just looking to maximize its value to the neighborhood,” said Stivers. “It’s not fair for a few of us to decide on our own this value for the neighborhood.”