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The photographs of San Antonio and Dignowity Hill used within this blog are the property of Juan A Garcia East Light Images. All rights are reserved to the owner. Copy and use of these pictures is forbidden without written permission. Contact Juan at for permission.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Auditorium at Ella Austin

The Ella Austin Community Center occupies an entire city block in Dignowity Hill.  The center is named after Ella Austin an African American woman who founded an orphanage in 1897 and cared for homeless children until 1940. In 1968 the children's home was converted to a multi purpose community center and continues to serve as a neighborhood based social service agency for the Eastside and beyond.

Ella, as the community center is affectionately called, is housed in what used to be Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School, which was closed as a school in the mid 1960's.  The main building dates back to 1921 and is located in the middle of the Dignowity Hill Historic District.  The building is a historic preservation project waiting to happen. The structure, while in relative good shape, is in need of on going maintenance.  The exterior of the main building still retains much of it's architectural interest with it's oversize windows and doors.  Over the years much of the interior space and old classrooms have been carved out for office space, conference rooms and space for programs such as the day care and after school program.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Inscription
Gated Entrance to Ella

The one interior space that has remained relatively untouched by remodeling efforts is the old school auditorium.  This is a beautiful space with old hardwood flooring, a large stage, high ceilings and amphitheater type seating that slopes down towards the stage. The windows are floor to ceiling with multi pane glass or lites. The seats appear to be the original wooded fold up types no longer seen in schools.   

Entrance to Auditorium off of Pine Street
Auditorium Seating and Windows
Stairway to Balcony


Old Wooden Seats
Ella is seeing a resurgence in utilization as staff from the Eastside Promise Neighborhood and Choice Grants along with the Urban Strategies Group have recently moved into office space at Ella giving the community center higher visibility.  With this newly generated visibility discussion has turned to the possibility of updating and enhancing the auditorium for use by the community for events like movies, stage plays and gatherings. New lighting, new seating and audio visual equipment could help bring this beautiful space back to life.  However, funding is needed to rehab the auditorium space for community events. Keep Ella in mind, it could use your generosity. 

Antique Piano