Dance hall days to return
By Erin Smith/ Chronicle Staff
Thursday, June 15, 2006 - Updated: 07:50 AM EST
A long-awaited youth center for West Cambridge will have a dance floor, too, according to new plans unveiled this week.

The plan thrilled social dancers who mobilized an intense campaign to get the city to include dance in the layout.

"There will be a floor that will be good for dancing," said contra dancer John Gintell.

The new West Cambridge Youth and Community Center will also provide services for parents, seniors and community groups.

City hopes to build the new youth center and a preschool while maintaining the lower level of the building at 688 Huron Ave. for the Mount Auburn Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

The 31,600-square-foot center could open by the fall of 2008, said Deputy City Manager Rich Rossi, who is managing the project, at a recent community meeting.

Rossi pledged to keep the lines of communication open to residents during construction.

Plans for the youth center include locker rooms, a fitness center and gym, a meeting room, an active lounge, a project room and a kitchen.

"One of the most popular classes we offer for kids is our cooking class," said Ellen Semonoff, assistant city manager for human services, at a recent neighborhood meeting.

Semonoff said the center would host programs for parents and children and seniors activities, such as line dancing and tai chi, in the morning hours. In the afternoons, from 2 to 6 p.m., the center would host programs for 9- to 13-year-olds, which could include art classes and exploratory expeditions to Fresh Pond. After 6:30 p.m., the center programs would be targeted toward 14- to 18-year-olds with social activities in the theatre and dance hall space.

"We have a high hope that this will become a magnet for arts in this community," said Semonoff.

The center could also accommodate community groups, a move that has pleased local dance groups who were pushed out of the space in December after the city purchased the Huron Avenue building from the VFW for $2.9 million.

The sale left several local dance groups without a dance hall, including a salsa group, swing dancers and a contra group. Members of the dance groups have butted heads with City Manager Bob Healy in the past few months over their hope to return to the new Cambridge center.

Dancer and Cambridge resident Gintell said some of the dancers recently met with Rossi and are pleased with the new plans.

Gintell belongs to the contra dance group, which had used the VFW for weekly events for almost three decades and has since relocated to a smaller facility in Medford.

"I think that the city is really going to benefit from a much better use of the center and a better youth center," said Gintell of the current plans.

City officials worked with architects from Cambridge Seven Associates to plan a new VFW reception hall and bar over the current parking lot at the site. The project includes a 23,700-square-foot youth center, a 700-square-foot preschool and a 7,200-square-foot VFW post.

Erin Smith can be reached at

Return to the articles section of the web site.
Produced by Charlie Seelig
This page last updated on November 4, 2006.