Washington Center gets landmark vote

By Erin Kolb

CITY HALL – City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve landmark status for the Booker Washington Community Center, 524 Kent St. in Rockford.

Venita Hervey, alderwoman of the fifth ward, where the center is located, spoke of the importance of the Washington Center.

“It has played a huge and pivotal role in the fifth ward throughout these years,” Hervey said. “It has a very rich and deep part of the history of the community, not just southwest Rockford. [The Washington Center] has certainly been a spirit in our community.”

Landmark designation is different than historical preservation designation, Hervey explained. If a building has historical preservation status, certain changes cannot be made to the site, while a building with landmark status can be improved upon and renovated without interfering with its landmark status.

Hervey said it wasn’t just the building that would receive landmark status.

“It is the land itself, it is the place of the Booker Washington Center, that we would like to have designated landmark status,” Hervey said.  

The Booker Washington Community Center, opened in January 1916, was the first African-American community center of its kind. The Center’s Director, Will Ashford, said it is important to remember the past.

“We’re preserving the legacy, keeping the history and acknowledging its importance citywide,” Ashford said. “It’s not just important to our African-American community, it’s important to the whole community.”

Ashford said the center will be working on six initiatives in the near future, to be announced in January.

The Washington Center with celebrate its 100th birthday in January 2016.

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