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WPA gymnasium comes down
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Wiederholt Enterprises started demolition of the Cuba City gymnasium, located at the corner of Yuba and Jackson streets in Cuba City, on Feb. 16. It is the first of three buildings the city has contracted to be razed this spring. The citys community center, also known as the Boy Scout building, and the garage north of the gymnasium are both slated to come down before July 1. - photo by Dena Harris

CUBA CITY—Built with true horse power in 1937, the Cuba City gymnasium has served the community in many aspects for the last 80 years. It provided an educational space, an athletic arena, dance floor and community setting. For the last week, Wiederholt Enterprises has been razing the building to clear the lot.

In 2013, the Cuba City Council voted to close the gymnasium due to budgetary cuts. At that time the gym was generally used for sports team practices and as a place for the public to walk. The gym was officially closed in February of 2014. Since then, the building has stood vacant. The city attempted to sell the building without any success. The city hopes the vacant lot will be more marketable and allow the property to return to the tax roll.

The gymnasium was a part of the Cuba City School and was built during the Great Depression as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). WPA was a federal relief program instituted in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal to put Americans to work on all kinds of projects during the Great Depression.

The gymnasium was located north of the school building, which was built in 1905. The gymnasium was a separate building connected to the school through a corridor and doors. The old school building housed elementary and high school students and remained in use through 1967 when it was razed. A new high school was completed at it’s current School Street location in 1960. The new elementary school was built at the corner of School and Roosevelt streets in 1967.

Dean Rogers of Cuba City was in high school when the gymnasium was built.

“We watched the construction from our classroom,” Rogers said. “It was a three-story building, so we could see quite a bit.”

Rogers played basketball in the gym as well as attended dances and other activities.

“It was the focal point of the high school,” Rogers said. “Most of the school’s activities were held there.”

Jack Robson of Cuba City said he was in sixth or seventh grade when the gymnasium was constructed.

“They used horses and pulleys to lift the materials,” Robson said. “It was quite the production.”

Robson was part of the basketball team during high school and spent quite a bit of time in that gym. Even after he graduated and joined military service, he returned to Cuba City and played on a Legion team.

“It wasn’t called The Pit until later years,” Ruth Ann Summers of Cuba City said. “It didn’t stink when we went there. I have such wonderful memories in that building. We had prom there, with a live orchestra, of course. There were Snoball and homecoming dances, too. The teen hops were so packed you could hardly move to dance.”

“All I remember is good things about it,” Robson said.

He recalled he basketball tournaments that would draw at least eight teams.

“They would come from all over,” Robson said. “It was the nicest gym around the area.”

Robson said the gym was always in use.

“Other than when they first built it, you wouldn’t walk on the floor with anything but sneakers,” Robson said. “If you got caught, you wouldn’t be allowed back in for a long time. They were very careful with the floor for years, until they built the new school.”

After the new high school was built, the gymnasium was used for roller skating, dances, sports practices and public activities. Robson said he was last in the building right before it was closed to the public in 2014. He and others would use the gym as a place to walk.

The demolition and removal of the building is anticipated to be completed by Friday, Feb. 24. Wiederholt Enterprises has contracted with the city to raze three city-owned buildings, including the gymnasium. The other two buildings include the Cuba City community center, also known as the Boy Scout building, located at 415 S. Jefferson St., and the city garage located north of the gymnasium. The garage will be the last of the three buildings to come down as the city anticipates needing the garage space until after the winter season. Most of the equipment from that garage will be relocated to other city properties.

Wiederholt’s estimate for razing the three buildings included $55,000 for the gymnasium, $10,000 for the shed and $5,800 for the community center. An additional $10,500 was estimated for the asbestos inspection and removal, bringing the total project cost to $81,300. The funds for the project are coming from the tax incremental financing district (TID) for the city’s industrial park. The TID funding has to be used by July 1, when the TID officially closes.