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Building preserves memories

The dance goes on

Thursday, April 06, 2006

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With two corner drugstores on Broad Street, two downtown cinemas and public dances every Friday, Augusta was just like Happy Days back in the 1940s and '50s, Mildred Ivey remembered.

Couples dance the night away at Julian Smith Casino at a reunion for people who grew up in Harrisburg. (Chris Thelen/Staff)

Much of that is gone, but Julian Smith Casino, the brick-and-stone building that housed the dances, remains. Every year Mrs. Ivey and her friends, who are all in their 70s, get together to dance, laugh and share memories of those days.

This year, they gathered again.

"We have a little arthritis, but we still dance," Mrs. Ivey said.

Even without the money of a gambling casino, Julian Smith Casino is rich in its history.

It takes its names from a former mayor of Augusta and uses another definition of the word "casino," a social gathering place.

And those gatherings have included a rehearsal by the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, high school dances and countless first meetings of couples who remain married to this day, facility supervisor Darrel Mayle said.

The interior of the main hall inside the Julian Smith Casino is set up for a banquet. The space is used for many gatherings. (Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff)

From church groups to fraternities, someone is always using the facility, Mr. Mayle said. The Rev. Joseph Lowery, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Gov. Sonny Perdue are among those who have made stops at the casino. Many people he speaks with tell of meeting their future husbands or wives for the first time.

"It's never been a gambling place," said Lynda Hand, marketing coordinator for the Augusta Recreation and Parks Department. "Most of the people who live in Augusta know."

The casino recently remodeled its interior, including its lighting, fans and public address system, he said. The facility has also added an intimate amphitheater overlooking Lake Olmstead.

Navigating a narrow spiral staircase to a crow's nest reveals a view from atop the structure, which resembles a log cabin. It's large meeting room has hardwood floors and a long line of palladium windows opening up to the lake.

At the same park are baseball fields, a disc golf course circling the lake, a gazebo, picnic areas and the Julian Smith Barbeque Pit.

 

The Julian Smith Casino in Augusta. (Michael Holahan/Staff)
Manager Darrel Mayle looks out over the parking lot from the crow's nest. Though it's called a casino, the building has never been used for gambling. (Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff)

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

 

About the series

Many will come to Augusta this week to enjoy a world-class golf tournament. But where do Augustans and their guests go the rest of year? Where do they spend their time, relax and enjoy their community? This week we look at some of those places: a confidential look at our town.

Sunday: Diamond Lakes Regional Park
Monday: James Brown's statue
Tuesday: Al's Restaurant
Wednesday: The Riverwalk
Thursday: Julian Smith Casino
Friday: Savannah Rapids Pavilion
Saturday: Flea markets
Sunday: First Tee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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