Newtown Community Center/Robert L. Taylor Community Complex
Markers: Sarasota History
The Robert L. Taylor Community Complex grew out of the “Colored Service Men's Club” building that had served black soldiers during World War II. Newtown resident John Floyd supervised construction of the wood frame structure.
When Ken Thompson became Manager for the City of Sarasota in 1950, he added recreational activities to the traditional park program. He hired Robert L. Taylor to develop a recreation program at the Newtown Community Center, and operate it at the wartime “USO” as it was known by the residents. Robert “Bud” Thomas, former semi-pro baseball player, local barber and community leader, was a strong supporter of the program and mentor for Taylor.
In the beginning, Taylor planned programs, taught classes and was present from opening to closing. A part-time janitor was the only other paid staff for the center.
Without a gym, the basketball program began with an outdoor court. It was especially important for weekend “pickup” games. At day's end, fans, “wannabees” and experienced players came together at the Rec, as they called it, for fun, honing skills and developing self confidence.
In 1957 a swimming pool was added to the Center in an effort to end demands for desegregating Sarasota beaches. Senior boys and Booker High School became the first volunteer lifeguards. By the time adult swimming classes were offered in the evening, the Center's staff had grown to include a lifeguard and water instructor.
Continuing the tradition of baseball in Newtown, semi-pro baseball player Adair Ford was hired to develop an athletic program for children and youth. With the original building replaced in 1969 by a large auditorium, increasingly the Center became a true community center. In 1986 a gymnasium was added. It climaxed Taylor's 36-year career.
With Taylor's retirement, after a short interim, Carl East was promoted from assistant supervisor to director of the Center. As the community grew the nature of programming changed at the Rec. A senior adult program began in the 1980s and was later augmented by the Senior Friendship Center. Volunteers now provide year-round tutoring for students of all ages. The center was rededicated as the Robert L. Taylor Community Center Complex on February 15, 2005.