ST. JOHNSVILLE — Friends of St. Johnsville members met at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Park ball field Sunday afternoon to discuss revitalization plans for the facility’s historic Lewis M. Fowler Memorial Grandstand, constructed in 1954.
The Friends of St. Johnsville recently released a survey to gauge the public’s interest in potential community projects, with dozens of locals naming the grandstand’s revitalization a top priority.
While the grandstand’s roof was sound enough to keep the eight attendees of Sunday’s meeting dry, the afternoon’s heavy rain facilitated significant leakage throughout the structure, perfectly illustrating the need for improvement.
Though Friends of St. Johnsville President Robert Smith pointed out Sunday, “The roof, obviously as you can see from all the leaks, needs to be repaired,” he explained that the grandstand is largely structurally sound, with only a handful of spots requiring significant service.
“Most of it is cosmetic,” Smith said of necessary improvement work, which would include the replacement of dilapidated boards and “a ton of paint.”
Potential paint colors were discussed by attendees Sunday, with Smith providing a few samples, including various brown and golden hues that several present agreed would compliment the neighborhood while highlighting the structure’s historic appearance.
“The colors can do more than just protect the building. They can project a certain attitude,” Smith said.
Friends of St. Johnsville Director Katrina Caringi will put two color samples online for community members to vote on.
Smith explained that a future goal for the facility will be to expand its usage via advertisement. “The last time we met down here,” said Smith, “there seemed to be a consensus that the only way this could be viable in the community is if it became a multi-purpose venue.”
The removal of a chain link fence surrounding the grandstand — which could be replaced by a movable net — could expand the structure’s use options. With no fence separating entertainers and spectators, talent could perform on the infield or in the grandstand, with the public viewing happenings from the opposite location.
“We do have a substantial donation of funding for this [improvement project],” Smith said Sunday, noting that about $7,000 was donated across approximately four months by community members, groups and organizations.
Estimating the full grandstand revitalization at $15,000 — with a $3,600 estimate having been submitted for roof replacement materials — the Friends of St. Johnsville’s fundraising efforts are nearly 50 percent complete.
Group members discussed means by which they could raise the remainder of necessary refurbishment funding, including the placement of a donation receptacle — featuring grandstand photos and a description of revitalization goals — at weekly St. Johnsville Marina concerts.
Friend of St. Johnsville Secretary Margaret DiGiacomo noted that individuals can donate in memory of deceased community members or loves ones. Memorial plaques could also potentially be installed throughout the 16-section structure.
The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Park grandstand’s journey from creation to its current state began in 1953 when the original structure — located on the opposite side of the Soldiers and Sailors ball field — was condemned.
A park commission made plans for construction of a new grandstand. In late March of 1954, Mabel Fowler — widow of industrialist Lewis Fowler, who died in 1951 — donated $5,000 toward the project from a memorial fund established in her husband’s honor.
Additional donations rolled in and the grandstand’s construction was well underway by June, at which point the St. Johnsville Village Board voted to name the structure the “Lewis M. Fowler Memorial Grandstand.”
A formal dedication took place on Sunday, Aug. 22, the grandstand’s opening being celebrated with a parade and speakers. Spectators witnessed two baseball games that day, during which the St. Johnsville town and Little League teams triumphed against Amsterdam and Gloversville, respectively.
The total cost of the grandstand’s construction — thanks to volunteer labor and donated supplies — was only $9,000.
Friend of St. Johnsville’s Larry Schoff explained Sunday that the grandstand has played an important role in his life, stating, “I played ball in this field for a quarter of a century with some great athletes, and this grandstand is an asset to the village.”
Generally, “small villages like St. Johnsville don’t have anything like this,” Schoff said, adding, “St. Johnsville has a limited number of assets and this is one of them. It has to be brought back.”
Kicking off the revitalization process, the Friends of St. Johnsville will hold a community cleanup of the grandstand on Thursday, July 29, at 6 p.m. All are invited to the event, wherein garbage will be collected from underneath the structure. Refreshments and food, including hot dogs and hamburgers, will be served.
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