The Bancroft-Kent Center was a public-private urban renewal project that was built in 1978 in the Warren-Sherman neighborhood, near downtown Toledo. I was Toledo’s “city photographer” at the time, and I took these photos. I came across them recently while scanning my archive of negatives. Having totally forgotten what it was I had photographed, I managed to piece the story together, one that resonates today.
This was the ground-breaking ceremony for the Bancroft-Kent Center on October 31, 1978: community development director, Wayman Palmer on the left, Toledo city council members Sandy Isenberg in the center and Bill Copeland, second to the right.
My boss was Ted Reams, the city public information director, standing on the podium smoking a pipe as the city officials announce the project at the groundbreaking in 1978. Downtown Toledo is in the background.
They built the building in the middle of a residential side street, North 14th Street. The dilapidated houses on the opposite side of the street were ready to be torn down.
The next year, I was free-lancing, and Toledo Trust hired me to cover an event, with the Vice President, Walter Mondale, coming in to help commemorate. It was the dedication of the sculpture, Save The Children in front of the new Bancroft-Kent Center.
The Bancroft-Kent Center was renamed the Wayman D. Palmer Community YMCA after Wayman Palmer died in 1984. A beloved community leader, see his obituary here: Palmer Wayman Toledo Blade Nov 12 1984.
Wayman D. Palmer YMCA Today
I drove by the building in December to see if this was the building I had photographed 42 years ago, and clearly it was, but Save The Children was gone! So I checked with the Arts Commission, the agency in charge of public art, and they kindly provided me with information.
I discovered that Save The Children was the very first “1% For Art” installation. I used to work for the Arts Commission during that time, so I vaguely remember when the program started. It was a big deal. The city passed an ordinance for the allocation of 1% of the cost of new public buildings to be used for buying and installing public art.
The sad news is that Save The Children was deaccessioned and removed in 1989. It was made of materials that did not hold up, and it fell apart.
bad feng shui
Fast forward 42 years, during which time I moved away for a photography career in New York and returned. In September 2021 a new YMCA was announced for the Warren-Sherman neighborhood. It will cost over $20 million and have a swimming pool. It’s something the community says is badly needed. It will be built this time facing the main street, Bancroft, with the parking lot approachable from Bancroft. That’s good because now you can only get to the parking lot from one street over, to the west of N. 14th street, having to enter it on a road built through a public housing project. When I was there in the middle of the day, there were only three cars in the parking lot.
Save The Children
The failure of Save The Children foretold the failure of the building itself. Perhaps the architects, art supporters, and politicians should have had a better approach, as the front entrance was tucked away on a side street and closed, limiting personal interaction with the sculpture, Save The Children, which was quietly removed after 10 years.
It’s weird to have witnessed the ground-breaking of this new community center and the fanfare of the Save The Children dedication with the Vice President of the United States being present to honor it, only to see a few decades later, the emptiness of such grand gestures, along with the emptiness of the building itself. The building is getting torn down after only 42 years. It will be replaced, they say, by a really great building, but for the generations of children that have not been saved, it’s too bad that Save The Children and the Bancroft-Kent Center could not have fulfilled that promise.
With all of the heart-breaking shootings and killings of innocent children that Toledo is experiencing, I hope the current committee of judges for the new building’s “1% For Art” will consider installing a new Save The Children, one that will persevere.
Photo essay © Penny Gentieu