All but the very edge of the shiny new gym floor was covered with yards of blue plastic, protecting the lacquered surface from the street shoes of more than 1,500 people who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday for the new Richard England Clubhouse and Community Center.
The draw was the official opening of the city's first cross-generational Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Club at 4103 Benning Rd. NE. And organizers couldn't have been more pleased with the turnout.
"This means a great deal," said Eddie Banks, a retired D.C. police sergeant who will be the clubhouse administrator. "People will feel there is a gathering place in the community, where they can come together and close that age and communication gap."
The $4 million brick center is the first new clubhouse for a Police Boys and Girls Club to be built since 1982 and the third to be constructed from the ground up.
But when construction began 16 months ago, the goal was to create a variation on the theme.
This clubhouse, built for a 14-year-old branch that has been operating out of Sousa Junior High School since 1985, would provide activities for both the oldest and youngest in Ward 7 -- as well as bring the two groups together.
So inside the club is a fully equipped sewing room, weight room, library, crafts workroom, computer center, game room, study room, performance stage, woodworking shop and, of course, the spanking new gym. It also will offer headquarters office space for the Boys and Girls Club staff, which has been operating from 1700 Rhode Island Ave. NE.
Staff members said they will regularly transport up to 200 senior citizens from the nearby Capitol View, Phillip T. Johnson and Michaux senior centers for a full range of activities directed for them from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.
After that, the focus of the club will be on after-school educational, job training and recreation programs for neighborhood youngsters.
Intergenerational programs will include cooking, camping, aerobics, bingo, sewing, woodworking and photography.
City officials on hand Saturday hailed the facility, built entirely with private money, as an exemplary hub of support for inner-city residents.
"We are going to find a way to replicate this experience throughout this city," D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon said before taking scissors to the ceremonial red ribbon.
The Boys and Girls Clubs started 56 years ago as a dream of D.C. Police Maj. Ernest W. Brown, who believed that juvenile delinquency could be reduced by fostering a positive relationship between the city's youth and police.
Today the club boasts an active membership of about 14,000, with 10 club centers citywide. A life membership is $1, but no youth is barred for failure to pay.
The new Benning Road clubhouse is named for Richard England, chairman emeritus of Hechinger's stores, who co-chaired the fund-raising drive with Vincent Reed, vice president of communications for The Washington Post.
England said the center was mortgage-free, then smiled and continued fund-raising, saying money was needed to buy helmets for the 425 youngsters who play football at area clubs.
"I think this will be an answer to getting young people to have a dream and to believe it," said D.C. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr., keying his remarks to weekend celebrations of the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"This is where you shape and mold the young mind and body. It's an important part of what every community ought to be about."