Not only is the building itself an icon, but the varied purposes and activities held within Roosevelt Hall throughout its past provide insight into our area’s social and economic history.
In the spring of 1933, the country was in the depths of the Great Depression. And, as was the case all over America, there were many unemployed single and family men in the Barrett area struggling with poverty. Soon after he was elected President, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress established the Civil Works Administration (CWA) which provided direct federal funds to local government agencies to get the country back to work.
In the late fall of that year, the Barrett Village Council and Mayor Fred Yackel conceived of a plan to build a combined public auditorium and high school gymnasium under the program and policies of the CWA. The city provided the lot location on Hawkins Avenue on the east side of the Soo Line Railroad tracks. While the federal funds were used to pay the wages for local workers to construct the building, the city was required to foot the costs of the building materials, which totaled $5,000 at the time. Western Red Cedar was used for the siding and the gymnasium floor was made with beautiful maple hardwood. Originally, there was a 19′ x 30′ stage with built-in foot lights and a 41′ x 44′ balcony.
Construction was completed over the winter of 1933-34. The building was named Roosevelt Hall by the Village Council in honor of the creator of the CWA and it was dedicated at a ceremony emceed by Mayor Yackel in May of 1934. He announced that it would be used for “creamery and livestock association meetings, high school basketball games, class plays, and other community entertainments.” How prophetic.
And so, Roosevelt Hall served as the Barrett Public School’s gym and theater until 1953, when the school built its own gymnasium with a stage.
In 1957, the city gave David Neuman permission to modify the interior by removing the stage and balcony in order to make room for a bowling alley, which provided activity and even employment for many of the town’s young people. The job paid 10 cents to re-set the pins each time.
From 1973-74, the Hall was home to a Youth Center. There is still a sign of these times on the walls in the basement where a huge Vietnam War era peace sign is painted.
The building next served as an insulation plant involving tons and tons of old newspapers in the manufacturing process. That business closed in 1979, after which the building lay vacant and damaged for two years.
In 1981, the Prairie Wind Players Community Theatre, which had been formed in 1979 and had been presenting two plays a year in the Barrett Lakeside Pavillion, became aware of the opportunity to renovate and remodel Roosevelt Hall as a theatre facility. With all volunteer labor and donated funds, the hall was cleaned up, repaired, and a new stage built. The first production in the theatre was an unforgettable melodrama, Because Their Hearts Were Pure, directed by Roger DeClercq.
In 1983, PWP secured a loan from the Citizens State Bank and purchased Roosevelt Hall for $10,000, the balance of which was paid off in less than three years.
For decades, untold numbers of community theatre productions, concerts, dance performances, art exhibits, community arts classes and workshops, wedding receptions, fundraisers, and other cultural events have been held in this notable edifice.
An interesting side note is that in 1984, the 50th anniversary of the building, PWP presented a production of the musical Annie, which contained a scene where President Roosevelt convinces his cabinet to support the idea of getting the country back to work by funding projects to construct civic buildings (such as Roosevelt Hall).