Tracey Davis painted a star, a heart and a human stick figure next to her name, “like the ones I used to draw when I attended the Q House as a child.”
Davis was among scores of Q House alumni and neighbors who came out to leave a visual tribute on the walls of the community center and landmark that was central to their lives when growing up. That building’s days are numbered, but a new generation’s memories are on the way, as demolition begins this fall to make way for a bigger, better community center combined with an enlarged new home for the Stetson Library.
The original Dixwell Community “Q” began in 1924 as a settlement house for members of the Dixwell community at 98 Dixwell Ave. A newer modernist structure of bricks and poured concrete at 197 Dixwell Ave. was built in 1967 and served as a community anchor for decades before falling into disrepair and financial straits, necessitating its closure in 2003.
For Davis and countless others, the Q House was more than a place to hang out: “This is where I grew up — this is the community that supported me and my family and provided a safe place to spend time and build skills. It’s where I learned dancing, gymnastics, modeling, drill team. We had it all” she said, beaming after adding her painterly contribution to the long, white-washed wall prepared by New Haven artists Katro Storm, Shaunda Holloway and Marquis Brantley. The mural facilitators pre-painted the giant block letters spelling out “Dixwell Q House,” but said they did not have preconceived ideas of how the mural would look after inviting the public to “leave their mark and paint history.”
Among those leaving their mark was Karen Ennis. She remembered singing Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All” in a talent show at the Q. She said she is glad her son Cameron, now 12, will be able to attend the new Q House in the future. Painting next to her was Kelly Russell, vice president of the Pop Warner Football League. He said he joined Pop Warner after moving to New Haven years ago, and turned to the Q House as a source for recruiting young football players.
Painting participants included the young …
... some a bit older…
.. and families.
Also leaving her “tag” on the Q-House wall was New Haven Mayor Toni Harp. Sporting a double-pinstriped suit, she opted for a bold orange color in painting her initials among the sea of names and comments left by community members.
Earlier, Harp spoke at a Q House Pre-Demolition Ceremony emceed by Dixwell Alder and building committee Co-Chair Jeanette Morrison. Flanked by architect’s renderings and schematics of the new Q House, Harp spoke briefly at the gathering of state and city government officials and project and community stakeholders, explaining the arduous effort and process of securing the nearly $16 million that will make the new Q House possible.
Harp said the community center will provide state-of-the art health care services, a museum of African American historical artifacts and a state-of-the-art library. “Young people will enjoy a full gymnasium with basketball hoops on both sides,” she said.
She thanked the city and state elected officials responsible for helping secure funding along with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. “The new building will represent the new, New Haven — a New Haven that knows it’s important to serve our young people, that we give them positive and productive things to do, that we give them access to the tools they need in the world they will inhabit,” Harp said.
Building committee Co-Chair Curlena McDonald reviewed the demolition and construction timeline for the new structure. It includes a spring 2017 construction start-up time, with the opening of the new Q House slated for 2018.
New Haven Board of Alders president Tyisha Walker, who spoke briefly at the ceremony, said she attended the Q House while in high school, remembering it as a place that afforded fellowship for students after school. “When they tear it down, we’re going to build something better. It’s going to be comprehensive — it’s going to be for the elderly, the youth, and everyone in between,” she said.
A processional to the Dixwell Arts & Ideas pop-up festival was led by National Drill Team to Scantlebury Park on Ashmun Street following the pre-demolition ceremony.