50th anniversary of the King Center

It was 50 years ago this month that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Community Center was opened in the North Central neighborhood of San Mateo.

Though the King Center and King Park seems to be fully linked to the neighborhood’s fabric, it was almost named something else, according to a history of the center compiled by Amourence Lee of the Home Association of North Central San Mateo.

Once called East Park, the site was carved out from land the city purchased beginning in 1953. Throughout the 1960s, there was an effort to create a recreation center in the neighborhood, along with other key capital improvement projects likes the Senior Center in Central Park and the Community Center in Beresford Park.

While the area was becoming known as North Central San Mateo, the proposed new facility was referred to the East Park Recreation Center, since the area is sometimes known as the Eastern Addition, though no longer in the eastern part of the city since North Shoreview and Shoreview were developed.

After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated April 4, 1968, it was brought up that the new park and community center should be named after him. There was some concern, however, that the name might suggest that the center was only for minorities and that the name be, instead, Abraham Lincoln or Lincoln Park and Community Center.

However, the city decided it should be named in honor of Dr. King. The Rev. Rufus A. Cooper, of St. James AME Zion Church, perhaps said it best, “it was hoped that the recreation center would not be segregated in its staffing, program or constituency, since this would be alien to Dr. King’s teachings.”

The center was dedicated at 2 p.m. March 30, 1969 at 725 Monte Diablo Ave. It occupies essentially the same footprint aside from the senior center extension wing added in 1989, and has served the community well over the years.

There will be a celebration this weekend at the center that includes a walk through the past, present and future of the center. Officials are planning games and other activities along with a grand opening of the revamped teen center. It takes place 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and all are welcome.

Jen Wilson, the community services coordinator who runs the center, said it was first learned that the anniversary was coming when a proclamation about its 25th year was spotted on an interior wall a few years back. It was decided that there should be a commemoration for the 50th year and this weekend’s celebration was planned. As part of it, there will also be an unveiling of a newly renovated teen room, that will provide after-school programming for middle-school students then be open for teens at night. Next door, there is a homework room with computers if students need a quiet place to study, Wilson said.

Through its history, the King Center has been something for many. With services for youth and seniors and everyone in between, it has offered food service so seniors can get a hot meal to hosting the Second Harvest Food Bank’s brown bag service. It also offers community meeting space, recreation space and hosts health officials who provide immunizations.

“The King Center is a lot of things to a lot of people. That’s the beauty of it … being a true community center,” Wilson said.

Published in the San Mateo Daily Journal March 8, 2018
Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jon@smdailyjournal.com. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.

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