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If these walls could talk

Roosevelt Hall has rich 80+ year history in Barrett

Over the past 80-plus years, Barrett’s Roosevelt Hall has been the site for graduations and basketball games. It’s where bowling teams competed and high school youth earned money setting pins for the games. A gun club met downstairs and practiced on its indoor firing range. It was used as an insulation manufacturing plant, and it’s been home to the Prairie Wind Players Community Theatre since 1981.

Oh, if those walls could talk.

While the building can’t, those who’ve attended and participated in the wide range of activities at Roosevelt Hall are telling its story.

While few people can recall the structure’s construction, Kathy Ray has researched its early history, which started with the Great Depression. Roosevelt Hall, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a product of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civil Works Administration. The CWA provided federal funds to local government agencies to get the country back to work.

In late 1933, the Barrett Village Council and Mayor Fred Yackel developed plans to combine a public auditorium and high school gymnasium under the CWA. The city provided a lot located on the south side of the Soo Line Railroad tracks while the federal funds paid for local workers’ wages to construct the building. The city paid for the $5,000 cost of construction materials and named it after the president who created the CWA.

The original interior included a 19-foot by 30-foot stage with built-in footlights and a 41-foot by 44-foot balcony.

Originally Roosevelt Hall was used by Barrett School as a gymnasium/auditorium. Part of the free-throw line is still visible in the building’s flooring. Contributed photo

Allen Hubred, who lived near Barrett recalled being a young lad when he went with his father to a basketball game. Spectators sat in the balcony and on the stage, he recalled. The basketball court took up most of the building’s space.

Ellard Larson remembered great home games as Barrett players maneuvered the ball through the court’s limitations which included the rafters.

Dances were held at Roosevelt Hall especially during the town’s Old Settlers’ Reunion in June. Some say both the Lakeside Pavilion and Roosevelt Hall would host dances on the same night of the celebration.

Graduation ceremonies and school plays were conducted in the building. Proms and junior-senior banquets were held there, too. The school used it until 1953 when a new gymnasium with stage was constructed by the district. But the building didn’t sit idle for long.

David Newman, a farmer and town booster, got permission from the city council to modify the building’s interior, removing the stage and balcony, to make room for the bowling alley.

The building provided a community activity, and it was a place of employment for the youth. Hubred was one of the high schoolers employed as a pinsetter at the Barrett Bowling Alley.

“It was quite a job,” he said. “You were busy the whole time.”

Chris Ray’s ties to Roosevelt Hall in Barrett run deep. Not only is the president of the Prairie Wind Players board of directors involved with the theater productions at the hall, in his youth, Ray worked as a pinsetter when the structure was used as a bowling alley. Photo by Carol Stender

Chris Ray, of Barrett, a former pinsetter himself, described the process.

“You were perched on a safe stand between two pits at the end of two alleys, one on each side,” he said. “When the ball came and knocked down pins, you hopped in the pit, put the bowling ball on the return rail, picked up the fallen pins and placed them in the corresponding slots in the setting machine, then hopped back up on the safe stand. When the second ball came, you sent the ball back, put the fallen pins in the machine and tripped the wire that sent the setting machine back down to place the pins back on the alley.”

Newman was a equal opportunity employer hiring both boys and girls. “Newman would only hire boys or girls who were big enough for the job, whatever his definition of big enough was,” Ray said. “He was an equal opportunity employer and had no problem hiring girls. I was fairly short and was thrilled to start setting pins when I was 14 years old.”

New setters were trained on Sunday open bowling nights when the pressure was off, he said. Once the pinsetters were good enough, they were given an alley or two during women’s league night.

“If you passed muster there,” Ray added, “you were promoted to the big time – men’s bowling league nights!”

Ernie Jensen and Rudy Link are legends among the former pinsetters for their powerful bowling.

“Rudy was a big man, and he didn’t bend,” Ray said. “He would walk to the line and throw the ball. The ball would travel about halfway down the lane before it hit the alley and when it hit the pins, the pins flew.”

Hubred recalled a time or two when pins actually flew out the back door.

“Sometimes we would put napkins in the holes of his ball,” Hubred said. “We would send his ball down the return a few alleys over, and we would laugh as Rudy tried to find his ball. Rudy would complain, and Newman would come to the pits and say, ‘You have to quit doing that,’ and we would tell him him about the hard balls Rudy would throw. We would sit back though and laugh when Rudy would be looking for his ball.”

On the other end of the lane was a pinsetter of note. Ronnie Marquette could set pins for four lanes, several said. His goal was to save money for a car. He got it, they said.

Pinsetters earned 10 cents per line per bowler, Ray said. A league match up between two four- man teams could earn them 80 cents per game or around $2.40 a shift.

“That was good money,” Hubred recalled. “At the time, I would get $1 worth of gas and that would get me pretty far in my car. Pinsetting gave you enough money to get a meal or pay for an evening out.”

Newman took care of his youthful workers. Each one got a social security card, and during each shift, he would bring them a burger and pop from Mrs. Link’s lunch counter at the bowling alley.

“Let’s just say, Mrs. Link made the best hamburger on the planet, and if I would have gotten the recipe, I would be a rich man today,” Ray said.

On cold winter nights, Newman would give his pinsetters a ride home.

Newman was hurt in a farming accident in the late 1960s and died. While others tried to keep the Barrett Bowling Alley operating, it was never the same, Ray said.

It was used briefly as a youth center, but bowling as a sport was declining in popularity, and in the 1970s, the wooden alleys and pinsetting machines were sold.

The building was purchased and used as an insulation plant for a few years. Tons and tons of old newspapers were used in the process, Kathy Ray reported. The business ended in 1979, and the building was vacant for two years when the Prairie Wind Players Community Theatre purchased it.

PWP was formed in 1979 and presented two plays a year in the Barrett Lakeside Pavilion, but the theater group looked for a permanent location. Roosevelt Hall was the answer. Volunteers helped clean it up, and with donated funds, they repaired the structure and built a new stage.

During the group’s first years in the new building, there was no running water. They brought port-a-potties to the site for public use during the performance season. It didn’t work out too well, Ray said.

He also recalled renting a 50 to 60-foot enclosed trailer which was parked on the building’s west side. It was quite a walk along a gangplank of sorts from the trailer to the stage.

The interior of Roosevelt Hall, set up for a recent Christmas cantata. Contributed photo

But it was apparent to the group that something needed to change. About 10 years ago, the building’s entry was remodeled to include restrooms, a ticket area and kitchen.

The first production at Roosevelt Hall was the melodrama, Because Their Hearts Were Pure, directed by Roger DeClercq.

In 1983 PWP secured a loan from the Citizens State Bank of Barrett and purchased the building for $10,000. The balance was paid off in three years.

While the renovations modernized the facility, some remnants of its past remain. The free-throw line is still visible at the bottom of the steps leading from the entry and ticket area into the hall’s seating area.

In 1984, at the 50th anniversary of Roosevelt Hall, PWP presented the musical Annie. In one scene of the production, President Roosevelt convinces his cabinet to support an idea to get the country back to work by funding projects like the CWA.

It was a fitting tribute to a program that helped small communities find work for residents as they built structures for the community. And those structures, like Roosevelt Hall, continue to serve the community.

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