By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Sept. 22 — An old historic building along Main Street, once run down and home to only birds for nearly three decades, found new life and launched a new legacy with a grand opening over the weekend.
During the course of several hours, nearly 200 people strolled over the shiny new floors, rambled by the enticing game room and proudly admired the well-used computer lab now housed in the former schoolhouse.
“I want the future of it to be a hub for the entire community,” local pastor Audre King said on Saturday afternoon standing in front of the West Luray Rec Center. “But I also want it to be a hub of the black community. I want [the kids] to take the same pride in it the [older generation] took because it was their school.”
The wood-frame building sitting at 630 West Main Street was built in 1924 and formerly known as the Andrew Jackson School. The structure is one of more than 5,000 “Rosenwald schools” built in the early 20th century and named for the former chairman of Sears, who partnered with Booker T. Washington to provide schools throughout the South for black children. The Luray school was named for a black businessman and shopkeeper named Andrew Jackson.
The building would serve as a place of learning for African American students in Luray and Page County until the 1950s — but only through the eleventh grade.
“My husband went to Buffalo and I went to Fairfax,” Patricia “Pat” Taylor said of her and her husband William’s senior year of high school. The two young black students had to leave Luray in order to finish school and earn their diploma.
“Until the late 1950s, black children living in Luray could not graduate high school at the Andrew Jackson School,” according to LivingLegacyLuray.org, a website that King launched to support and explain his vision for this project. “They had to attend one of several boarding schools for blacks. Some students from Luray went to a boarding school in Manassas, Virginia. Others went to D.C., New Jersey, New York and other distant locations.”
On Saturday, Pat sat with Maxine Tutt on a wall across the street from the Rec Center. They watched children — black and white — pitch bean bags, paint with Happy the Artist, and eat cotton candy beside a table with t-shirts bearing their school colors.
William Wayne Taylor, a former Luray councilman of 16 years (and Pat’s husband), previously owned the building where he and his wife had attended school. He ran the Center in the 1980s and ‘90s. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was a place to see live music.
“That place was rockin’ back then,” Pat says with a grin. She recalls when her brother James played there with his band, Charlie and the Playboys.
Today, pride shows in her smile as she watches children play and explore a number of activities both outside and inside the Rec Center.
“It’s something for them to do,” Pat says. “It gives them an opportunity to learn about computers, and to give them some kind of confidence with everything going on in the world today.”
Visitors at Saturday’s grand opening traveled from all across the state. Former alumni of the school, their families and others who supported the effort to revive the historical site joined local county and town officials to mark the moment with a ribbon cutting.
“Now we have to get ready to support the kids that will come in on a weekly basis,” King said on Saturday.
Just as citizens of Luray raised the bulk of funds in order to construct the building in the 1920s, according to the website, history repeated itself nearly a century later.
“We had to come up with $20,000 in 60 days,” King remembers from the start of center’s resurrection. “We had $10,000 and came up with the rest mostly through donations.”
King approached the property owners, family members, who sold him the historic site for $60,000 — after initially asking $180,000 for the property, which includes a 2-acre field behind the building.
The project came to King as “a vision in the night” several years ago. A vision of creating a living legacy — one that “preserves the past” while also “creating the future.” And so, on Nov. 3, 2017, renovations began at would be unveiled less than three years later as the newly improved West Luray Rec Center.
King grew up in Luray within site of the Rec Center at the corner of Jordan and West Main. He graduated from Luray High School with the Class of 2006, and later from Ferrum College in 2010. After moving back to the Valley for a while, he took a position as an assistant pastor in Loudoun County. He would return to Luray in 2017 following his vision, just as his wife was pregnant with their first child.
King currently works for Washington Gas in D.C. during the week, and then ministers his own congregation on Saturdays at the Rec Center. The young pastor leads Eternal Restoration Church, or ER Church as it’s known, where the doors are open to everyone, regardless of their mistakes or problems of the past.
“I’m probably the only one there each Saturday with a suit on,” King said. “But it doesn’t matter what they have on — the only thing we care about is people getting into heaven.”
Serving as a place of worship has been one way to introduce the other amenities of the Center to kids.
“I like being here with my mom,” said 12-year-old Joshua Russo of Luray.
“I like the games and the computers,” said 7-year-old Zion Frye of Luray.
“I just like it,” 13-year-old Preston Nelson said of the Center.
All three children said they first learned about the Rec Center after attending church there when there was no electric and no water. There are now 70 to 80 attendees at services each Saturday, and the children have even more reasons to go back. The formerly dilapidated building now contains:
- Business Center/ Computer Lab — used for homework, tutoring, job skills training, employment opportunities.
- Clothing Room — donated casual dress wear available at no cost.
- Youth Activity Room — recreation activities, events, weekly tutoring and mentorship programs.
There are televisions, video games, a fooseball table, air hockey table, pool table, couches, a piano, a new kitchen and an open meeting area with tables. Long gone are the more recent inhabitants of the building, who left behind some toxic reminders of their presence.
“I’m terrified of birds,” King admitted on Saturday. “But we had an inmate who helped us out, got them out and cleaned all the bird poop out of the attic.”
King acknowledged the Page County Sheriff’s Office who worked with the non-profit to provide inmate labor (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic) to help move renovations along. As he did with many inmate volunteers, King spoke with the inmate who dealt with the birds for him about life, about purpose and “the good things God could do in his life.” The conversations made their way back to the inmate’s mother, who, after “coming into some money,” donated $10,000 to replace the floors and another $4,000 to replace the gutters.
The LivingLegacyLuray.org site states: “It took determination and resolve of both students and parents for black children to graduate from high school. This is the legacy we wish to memorialize and remember.”
King, who celebrated his 32nd birthday last week, believes that legacy and the “vision God gave us” more than three years ago is coming into focus. He has plans to develop the 2-acre site adjacent to the building with two basketball courts, a playground, and a picnic and meeting area.
And as the Rec Center continues to take shape in the years to come, King plans to follow the guiding principle of his vision: “Preserving the past and creating the future.”
To become a Legacy Builder, consider making a tax-deductible donation to the West Luray Rec Center at:
Living Legacy, P.O. Box 603, Luray, Va. 22835.
Living Legacy Board Members include:
- Audre H.S. King (CEO)
- Duane Painter (Chairman)
- Walt Surratt (Treasurer)
- Veronica Walton (Board member)
- Tim Rocke (Board member)
- Carlie Kelly (Board member)
- Lindsey Croft (Board member)
- Becky Nichols (Board member)
- Carolyn Palmer (Board member)
- Seth Stace (Board member)