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Earl Bell Community Center

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  1. Basketball/Volleyball Court
  2. Dance Rooms
  3. Gymnasium
  4. Rock Climbing
  5. Tennis Court

"Located in downtown Jonesboro, Community Center #1 is near the middle of old Jonesboro. The Community Center is in close proximity to the federal building, Craighead County Courthouse, and other important government offices in downtown Jonesboro. Due to its central location and easy access to downtown Jonesboro, the community center has been a hub of recreation and entertainment in Northeast Arkansas. The building currently contains a basketball gym, meeting rooms, a rock-climbing wall, and a boxing room. Historically the building has been used as a gymnasium and auditorium. The large open space has also been used in local and regional emergencies. Community Center #1 has a continuous concrete foundation and walls of common bond, buff brick. The words, "Earl Bell Community Center'' are affixed on the south side of the front of the building, noting the name change made in 1984. When the community center was built in 1936, the building had steel casement windows around the entire building. Since then, many of the windows have been bricked in for security reasons. 

The Jonesboro Community Center #1 was built in 1936 and was designed by Elmer A. Stuck. The entrance of the Jonesboro Community Center faces Church Street. On the east side of Community Center there is the Community Pool, and Julian James Memorial Park. The community center is made of buff brick walls, supported by a continuous concrete foundation and covered in a tar or built up roof. The east and west portions of the building have a flat roof. The center of the building has a gable roof. The community center has gone under several changes since it was originally built in 1936, but it still features art-deco architecture and is a wonderful example of that style in Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas. 

earl bell 1936 photo

Photo taken by M.J. Fox in 1936 of Community Center #1

The idea for the Jonesboro Community Center was developed through the minds of the Young Men’s Civic Club, known today as the Jonesboro Jaycees. The idea for the Community Center was brought before the City Council on May 6, 1935. The City Council was not sure where to receive funding for this project, but applied for funding through the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works. In JuIy of I935 the City Council approved the plan to apply for funding, and another wrinkle was added to the community center plan: to add a swimming pool and a golf course. The swimming pool was added to the community center project, but the golf course idea never materialized. The swimming pool would later be covered up, and a new pool was built in its place in 1979.

Construction on the Jonesboro Community Center would begin in late 1935 and continue into 1936. Records indicate the funding of 45% of the project was made available through the Works Progress Administration. The rest of the funding for the project came in a bond issue. Later on, a two-mil tax increase was established to pay off the interest of the bonds. Total cost of the Community Center construction was over 100,000. 

The first function ever held at the community center was the Craighead County Fair, held on Oct. 30 and 31, 1936. Officials estimated the attendance to be over 20,000 for the two-day event. Ever since that opening day, the community center has been a hub for entertainment and recreation for Northeast Arkansas. Over the years, the center has been used for many different events, such as: talent shows, minstrel shows, concerts, and performances; including two famous performances by Elvis PresIey and Roy Orbinson. The most popular event held at the community center that Jonesboro residents still talk about is the wrestling matches that used to happen in the gym. 

2016 earl bell wrestling

It has also been used for athletic events over the past several years as well. Every day you can walk into the gym and find somebody playing basketball. Many classes have also been taught over the years, such as dancing, martial arts, and rock climbing. However, the Earl Bell isn't simply known for its recreation and entertainment history, it has been through some rough times as well. On May 15, 1968 a tornado ripped through downtown Jonesboro killing 34 people and injuring more than 300. A temporary morgue was set up at the community center because there wasn't another alternative at that time. 

The Community center has gone through several name changes over the past 70 years. It was simply named Community Center #1 when it was built. It was later turned into a YMCA, until a new facility was built for the YMCA in the late 1960's. On October 15, 1984 the City council passed a resolution to name the community center after Earl Bell, the bronze winning Olympic pole vaulter from Jonesboro. Today, the community center is still being used for recreational activities and teaching classes for the community."

Article by:

Zbinden, V. & Wilkie, J. - Parks and Recreation. (2007, October 4). National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.