$100,000 grant will help repair Menifee gym

The historic Menifee High School Gymnasium in Conway County is shown in this undated courtesy photo. Officials say the gymnasium, built in 1938 and a Black heritage site, will receive a $100,000 grant for repairs from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. (Photo courtesy Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Central Arkansas Library System Encyclopedia of Arkansas)
The historic Menifee High School Gymnasium in Conway County is shown in this undated courtesy photo. Officials say the gymnasium, built in 1938 and a Black heritage site, will receive a $100,000 grant for repairs from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. (Photo courtesy Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Central Arkansas Library System Encyclopedia of Arkansas)

The historic Menifee High School Gymnasium will receive a $100,000 grant for repairs from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

Built in 1938, the gym is one of 40 Black heritage sites that will receive a total of $3.8 million, according to a news release.

The gym was built with assistance from the Works Progress Administration, a Depression-era federal relief agency, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

The fieldstone-clad, single-story building was designed in the Craftsman style of architecture, according to the encyclopedia article by Mark Christ.

"The interior consists of a stage located on the east side of the building, with a classroom on both ends of the stage," according to the National Register nomination.

"By 1938, a community built by formerly enslaved and freed Black families in Menifee had established a school district recognized as 'one of the best operating rural schools in Arkansas,' resulting in its selection by the Works Progress Administration as a site for a new gymnasium," according to the Action Fund news release.

"The Menifee High School Gymnasium was one of the first three indoor gyms for African-American schools in Arkansas, the others being the Wortham Gymnasium at Rosston (Nevada County) and one at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College (AM&N) (which later became the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff)," wrote Christ.

Besides being the site of basketball games and tournaments, the Menifee gym also served as a community center, hosting dramatic performances, agricultural shows, proms and assemblies, according to the encyclopedia.

The gym was one of the only buildings on the campus to survive a tornado in Menifee in 1960.

In 1979, the Menifee district was consolidated with the Plumerville and Morrilton districts into the South Conway County School District, and that district gave title to the Menifee High School Gymnasium to the city of Menifee in 1989, wrote Christ.

The city began working to rehabilitate the gymnasium into a community center, using grants from the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program awarded in fiscal years 2011, 2018, and 2020, according to the encyclopedia.

"The town continues its community-led efforts to preserve the facility with interior remediations and repairs, extending the life of this cultural anchor and social center for Black residents," according to the news release.

The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, the Mellon Foundation and other partners.

With more than $95 million raised, the Action Fund is the largest resource dedicated to preserving African American historic places, according to the news release.

"The Action Fund's investment in and celebration of 40 historic African American places illustrates our belief that historic preservation plays an important role in American society," said Brent Leggs, executive director of the Action Fund and senior vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "The history embodied in these places is emblematic of generational aspirations for freedom, the pursuit of education, a need for beauty and architecture, and joys of social life and community bonds. That's why the Action Fund believes all Americans must see themselves and our shared history in this year's grantee list if we are to create a culturally conscious nation."