VERO BEACH — Vero Heritage, Inc. has been chosen as one of the 100 finalists in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2011 “This Place Matters Community Challenge.” Should they receive the highest number of votes from individual supporters, Vero Heritage, Inc. would receive a first-place $25,000 cash prize to be used to fund maintenance and upkeep of the Heritage Center and the Indian River Citrus Museum.
The Community Challenge was designed to start a national conversation about the places that matter in our communities. Besides the National Trust sponsorship, it is supported by Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. and National Trust Insurance Services, Inc.
Voting started June 1 and concludes on June 30. Votes can be cast by going to http://www.preservationnation.org/take-action/this-place-matters/community-challenge/. Instructions will be available on the Vero Heritage Place Page at that address; you must have a valid e-mail address to vote.
Vero Heritage, Inc. is honored to be selected as a finalist from the more than 250 applications submitted for the Challenge. There are three cash prizes being awarded in the amounts of $25,000, $10,000 and $5,000. Vero Heritage, Inc. would use any prize monies for needed maintenance items such as window replacement, electrical repair, plumbing replacements, kitchen updating and other required upkeep on the Heritage Center and the Indian River Citrus Museum. Maintenance on a 76 year old building is a constant concern and updates and improvements for the building are costly.
Vero Heritage operates through memberships, fundraising, building rentals and grants. Thanks to major supporter, Mrs. Barbara Becker Hurley, they have been able to complete several much-needed projects on the building including refinishing the original heart pine floor, painting the exterior of the building and replacing the stage curtains. Mrs. Hurley’s most generous gift was a $100,000 donation to establish the Richard E. and Lillian M. Becker Family Foundation Endowment Fund for Vero Heritage, Inc. Mrs. Hurley continues her support and challenges others to support historic preservation.
Built in 1935 as the original Community Building, the Heritage Center is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a vital link to the history of our community. The cash award from this event would assist in the preservation of this important landmark which continues to be a center of activity for the community, hosting numerous public and private events including weddings, meetings and dances as well as the Hibiscus Festival and other public events in historic downtown Vero Beach.
The original Community Building, now the Heritage Center in Pocahontas Park, was first begun in 1925. The park was deeded to the city in 1921 by the Indian River Farms Corporation which developed the downtown and outlying areas. The park had a small zoo, a circular wading pool and playground equipment for children. A small restroom facility was built and this structure was integrated into the larger Community Building ten years later. The park was an important part of the early downtown, an area where everyone came to meet.
By 1934 the town’s growth made a meeting place for tourists and local clubs a necessity. It was designed to include a large meeting room, stage, and kitchen plus an additional meeting room with a fireplace and small restroom. The design became a reality in 1935 and with the aid of federal funds the Community Building was completed in April of that year.
World War II brought a Naval Air Station to Vero Beach and service personnel needed a place to meet, relax and get away from the duties on base. The Community Building answered that need and the north wing was added in 1943 to provide a lounge and service center for the base. Today that wing is the Indian River Citrus Museum.
The Community Building has taken on many names but always in answering a need for the community. It served as the Physical Arts Center for the city’s recreation department in its last role as a city building.
In 1991, when talk began concerning the demolition of the building, the community united to support an effort to save a part of Vero Beach history. Vero Heritage, Inc. was formed to restore and maintain this historic structure for community use. It was renovated and put back into use in 1992 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. It now, once again, serves the community as a place to meet, celebrate and remember the history of Indian River County and the City of Vero Beach.