For 104 years, the John C. Proctor Recreation Center, 209 S. Dusable St., has acted as a community centerpiece for Peoria’s Southside. Built in the Classical Revival style, the building is set off with twin limestone staircases that rise up to a center entrance. Bricks of two colors are laid in a Flemish bond. A common theme of archways in the brickwork and the windows is seen from this vantage point and this theme will be repeated in other parts of the building as well as the original loggia that helped enclose the pool. Each side of the entrance is flanked with identical wings. On the outside, a limestone foundation raises the building up, reflecting its importance to the community while providing light in the basement rooms.

The architectural firm of Hewitt & Emerson used heavy molding, staircases and floors of terrazzo to welcome visitors into the center. The architects laid out matching dressing rooms each with its own gym and a theater, bowling alley, pool and other recreational rooms that would give the community a place to gather. The outside grounds contained a playground and multiple sporting areas.

Born in 1822 and losing both parents at an early age, John C. Proctor eventually made Peoria home, living with his brother’s family. Having never married and having amassed a sizable estate in Peoria through banking and lumber, Mr. Proctor stated in a 1907 will that his money would be used for various designated public goods throughout the community. Earlier philanthropic interests such as the Proctor Home still exist, but it may well be that by his endowment to the Proctor Recreation Center he may have had the most effect on our community over the years. An article published soon after construction described the center as “an institution with every facility for furthering the physical, social and moral welfare for the community.” The center provided free bathing facilities to the general public, something that was still not accessible for many in Peoria.

In continuous operation since its 1913 opening, with the exception of a short time during the Great Depression, the Proctor Recreation Center has lived up to the vision of its benefactor. It is now under the direction of the Peoria Park District. The center still draws the community together, offering programs for all ages and is home to the African American Hall of Fame. What started as a bequest in the will of an earlier Peorian continues to touch our city today.

Sid Ruckriegel

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