Elegant 75th Anniversary party showcased historic Heritage Center

The Heritage Center was decked out in elegant finery for a special 75th Anniversary Celebration, displaying the historic landmark in a fashion that left no doubt as to why it has been such an integral part of the community.

Board member Marilyn Wallach and her husband Kurt, who previously served on the board for the maximum 10 year limit, spearheaded and underwrote the celebratory gathering.  “We just felt we needed to do something special,” said Marilyn.  My husband has loved this building for years.  When he was 18 he was stationed in Fort Pierce at UDT [Navy Underwater Demolition Team Unit].  They would split them up for USO parties between Fort Pierce and Vero Beach and he always wanted to come here because he liked it better.  He actually danced with Millie Bunnell, one of those instrumental in saving the building.”

The room looked exceptionally beautiful with muted lighting, crystal organza draped gracefully along the ceiling’s wooden beams and placed as overlays atop black tablecloths on the tables; white chair-covers with black tiebacks, and glittering candles reflecting off mirrored squares completed the sophisticated look.  With an amazing attention to detail, volunteer decorator Cynthia Baita had adorned the glass candle bowls with tiny rhinestone 75s and glued diamond dust along the rims.

“We wanted people to gasp and say, “wow, look what you can do,” when they got here,” said Wallach.  “It’s wonderful that it’s still here after all these years and is still serving the community.”

Old Vero was out in force, mingling with the next generation of supporters who are working to keep history alive.  As the jazzy sounds of the Coffee Beans wafted throughout the room, guests caught up with on another and nibbled on a buffet of tasty hors d’oeuvres catered by Adrienne Drew.

Treasure and Space Coast Radio’s Jim Davis emceed a program that marked the building as a gathering place despite hurricanes fire and its proposed demolition, and thanked those responsible for its preservation.

Executive Director Rebecca gave a brief history of the Heritage Center, which was erected in 1935 as a community center.  When World War II brought the Naval Air Station to Vero Beach, the Heritage Center was enlarged with the wing that is now the Citrus Museum, and it became a place for servicemen to visit and relax.  After the war, the building continued its use as a community building, also serving as the recreation department’s Physical Arts Center.  Then in 1991, when the City thought to tear the building down, the late Millie Bunnell took charge and united the community to preserve it as a wonderful link to the past.

Rickey noted that after 75 years, the Heritage Center is in need of some facelifts, but its listing on the National Register of Historic Places complicates matters.  Nationally renowned historic restorationist Stephen Ortado from Washington DC, has begun the slow and expensive process of replacing all 56 windows.  To date, nine windows have been completed; funds are being raised through an Adopt a Window program to finance the remainder.

Heritage Board President Elizabeth Graves Bass thanked the Wallachs for their generous underwriting of the event, which allowed the money from ticket sales to fully benefit the organization.

She also thanked Barbara Becker Hurley, who last year provided the Heritage Center with a check for $100,000 to establish the Richard E. and Lillian M. Becker Family Foundation Endowment Fund.  Hurley’s father was in citrus and the Indian River Citrus Museum highlights that industry’s role in our community.  The Museum is housed in the north wing of the Heritage Center; both are under the umbrella of the non-profit organization Vero Heritage Inc.

I got a chance to chat with Hurley, who was delighted to be able to help the organization.  “I used to love to ballroom dance here,” Hurley remembered.  “This is a jewel in our town; a real gem.  It’s so important to preserve this and I want more people to know about it.”

Former board president Celeta Arden said how pleased they were to receive the donation.  “It’s purely an endowment.  It’s our safety net for the future.”  When asked why she joined the organization, Arden replied, “Several of us who grew up in Vero got involved because we remember all the important things that happened here.”

Elizabeth Graves Bass added, “I love it here; even just its name, Heritage.  I believe heritage and history are important.  You don’t know who you really are unless you know your history.”

The building is used for a variety of private parties and events and is the focal point for many of the city’s public events such as the Hibiscus Festival and Christmas in Downtown.  Rentals of the building and fundraisers such as the upcoming USO Rocks America on February 19 and both spring and fall Bridal Expos are the major sources of income for Vero Heritage, Inc. {igallery 139}

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