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The Dreams of a Few: the Moab Arts & Recreation Center

Every year, a dozen or so people stop by the Moab Arts and Recreation Center at 111 East 100 North to take pictures and ignite their childhood memories. Many people say "I went to church here," or "I was baptized here." I walk them down to a small room in the basement of the building and show them where the stone baptismal font used to be. They've then described to me the steps that used to lead to the stone font along with the emotions they were feeling that day. Although the font is now a small stage in a meeting room at the arts center, it still evokes emotion in those who stop by to visit.

Other visitors to the MARC get a smile on their faces as they walk through the door and say "I went to kindergarten here." Still others remember its brief stint as an arts and crafts store. And nearly everyone remembers the Hollywood Stuntman's Hall of Fame; but to properly tell the story of something rapidly approaching the century mark, one should begin at the beginning. Old things deserve to have their stories well-told with love and detail.

Starting Out

In the fall of 1925 Bishop W.D. Hammond of the Salt Lake Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints made the announcement that a new Latter Day Saints (LDS) chapel would be constructed for the Moab ward. The estimated price of the construction would be $20,000, and would result in what "will undoubtedly be the most handsome and modern building in Moab."

Groundbreaking and excavation began in September of 1925, and by January of 1926, the Times Independent reported that work on the new church was being rushed. The first services were held in the new church on April 11, 1926. The facility was used for worship, meetings, and church recreation until 1959, when a new LDS church serving two wards was constructed on Locust Lane.

Kindergarten Classes Move to the Building

The building did not remain idle for long, however. As Moab's population exploded with the uranium industry, the community raced to keep pace with growing education needs. A new elementary school was opened in 1957. No sooner had the building opened its doors than it was too small to serve Moab's children. One way the space problem was solved was by suspending kindergarten classes. When kindergarten classes were offered again, they were held at the old LDS church. Many Grand County residents of a certain age remember attending kindergarten at the MARC from 1961 until some time in 1968 when the school district was finally able to move the lower grades back into district buildings.

Private Ownership

For a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the history of the MARC grows hazy, but according to Eleanor Heward (formerly Eleanor Zimmerman), she and her husband, Clifford Zimmerman (both of Salt Lake City) purchased the building from the LDS church in 1974 to open Zim's Canyon Country Crafts. The arts and crafts store occupied what is now known as the dance room. The couple constructed an apartment in the basement for use during their frequent visits to the store and the canyonlands area.

The structure continued to evolve, and in 1977, the entryway to the old church was enclosed, creating more usable indoor space.

At the same time the crafts store occupied the building, Lightfoot's T.V. and Appliance store was located in what is now the Stage Room. According to Dennis Lightfoot, his parents operated the appliance store from 1975 until some time in the 80s. The repair shop was located in the basement beneath the stage room.

The City of Moab Purchases the Building

In the late 1980s, the Zimmerman family was contacted by the City of Moab about the possibility of selling the facility to the town for use as a museum. The Zimmermans' hopes were that the building would be used as a cultural or historical museum celebrating the region. They went forward with the sale of the building in 1987. City plans at the time were that the facility would be developed as phase one of an arts and cultural development for downtown Moab. Community Impact Board money financed the purchase of the old LDS Church for the City of Moab. The cost: $125,128.73. According to City Council minutes, a contract was signed with John Hagner giving him free rent in exchange for five percent of his gross income from the Stuntman's Hall of Fame. The building remained the Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of Fame until about 1994. At that time, Mr. Hagner was given first right of refusal to purchase the building for $165,000. He wanted to continue renting the structure, but a motion failed in City Council to continue that agreement. Discussions about how to use the building began in earnest. The idea of making the Tributary Theater a permanent resident of the building was one option. Local entrepreneur Joe Kingsley considered purchasing it to house a theater company and the film commission office. The city also considered simply selling the building to help pay off the new city offices, then located on 200 South. February 1, 1996 marked the cutoff for ideas for use of the building. The first presentation on the possibility of an arts center was made by city manager Donna Metzler, community development coordinator David Olsen, and community members Whitney Rearick and Catherine Hansen. A motion to create the Moab Arts and Recreation Center (MARC) failed by a 3-2 vote. A motion to sell the building also failed, so the city found themselves still unsure what to do with the old church building.

Transformation Into the MARC

Within a few weeks, a MARC Steering Committee was formed to develop a more formal plan for an arts facility, and by June 1996, the first Moab Arts and Recreation Center Advisory Board was created by resolution of the city council. The city received a rural development grant to refurbish the aging building, create handicap access, and get it ready to be used as a public arts facility. Additionally, the George S. and Dolores Dore' Eccles Foundation awarded the city $10,000 to complete the substantial renovation project.

The Present Day MARC

And the rest, as they say, is history. The MARC became the center for art classes, dances, and New Year's celebrations. For a time, it served as a day care center with the Sprouts Program for children. It has hosted the Governor of Utah, the Grand County Fair, and many, many public meetings. It is used for weddings and parties, fundraisers and office space.

In 2005, however, the Advisory Board and new staff recommitted the MARC to expanding arts opportunities and arts programming in Grand County. They remain on a strong arts and cultural center course. Adults and young people can take classes in pottery, watercolor, oil painting, mosaics, drawing, creative writing, and other arts based activities. Children can attend art camp there in the slow summer months.

Eight months out of the year the MARC hosts community art exhibits during the highly successful Art Walk. Ballet, tai chi, yoga, qi gong, and other movement arts are taught at the center. Poets read their work there, and it is second home to local and state arts council when they hold meetings in Moab. And on any given day, music floats through the air as children learn to play piano, guitar, and recorder.

By Janet Buckingham

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