published: Friday, March 22, 2013
roxanne brown | Staff Writer
Since being acquired by the city in 1965, Jenkins Civic Auditorium has been the venue weddings, memorial services, city council meetings, children's reading programs, fundraisers, meetings, plays and even parties.
Before that, it was Clermont's first Publix Supermarket after company president George W. Jenkins bought the building in 1945 from All American Grocery Stores and rebuilt it three years later as the grocery store chain's 25th location.
On Friday, however, the auditorium took its final curtain call when a farewell party took place at the building on the corner of Montrose and 7th streets.
The historic structure is being replaced by a new, 11,000-square-foot community center -- more than twice the size of Jenkins Auditorium -- just down the street on the northwest corner of Montrose Street and Lake Avenue. Upon completion of the new building, set to open in mid April, the old auditorium will be demolished.
"Welcome to the wake of the Jenkins Auditorium," Mayor Hal Turville joked at the ceremony. "We've been a long time here with this building so let's go ahead and do this."
City officials, long-time residents and area historians were in attendance to reminisce about and celebrate the auditorium's 48-year run, as were Publix officials to remember their own roots in town. Reggie Booth, 82, was sitting in the front row, wearing the same long-sleeved Publix shirt he wore when he worked at the Publix-turned-Jenkins, his first ever job as a grocery clerk in 1949.
"It (inside building) doesn't look the same and I know everything changes, but I don't understand why it has to be demolished," Booth said, pointing to the corner where his job was to bag hundreds of bags of potatoes every Wednesday.
Also in attendance was Charlie Konsler, 89, a World War II veteran, who, after the war, came to Clermont and had a hand in rebuilding the store before it opened as a Publix.
Konsler said he is anxious to be there when the building is demolished so he can have a look at one of the trusses he built and the spot where he marked or welded the number "25," the official Publix store number, as Jenkins requested.
Early pictures of the building were showcased throughout the afternoon on plaques, in a power point presentation and on cakes supplied by Publix for the ceremony.
Councilman Ray Goodgame, president of the South Lake Historical Society, introduced a few of the group's members and other attendees, who shared what they knew about the building.
"The formal dedication of the Clermont Jenkins Civic Building was held at a formal gala dinner attended by 400 citizens and guests. Former Florida Gov. Leroy Collins was the guest speaker, and honored guest, George W. Jenkins, the donor, attended this dinner along with a host of other dignitaries, politicians and VIPs," Clermont's official City Historian Dolores Walker told attendees. "It is sad in a way to know Jenkins will be demolished because there are so many memories, but you gotta admit, the building is falling apart. It's time."
City Manger Darren Gray said after Jenkins is demolished, people can look forward to probable "green space" on the property where they will be able to sit, relax and enjoy the view of downtown Clermont.
The new community building will include many of the same features as the old auditorium. People will still be able to rent the building for events and it will house the South Lake Chamber of Commerce, which will continue to manage it.
Money for the new facility came from a one-cent sales tax and from park and recreational impact fees.
"And are we gonna be glad to have a new building? Sure," Turville said. "Will we ever put another building on this space? Doubtful. This will always be 'The Jenkins' and to be quite honest, I don't know what we'll name the new facility, but it will probably always be referred to as 'The New Jenkins.' So, we'll name it and we'll see how long that takes.""