Friday, January 11, 2013

Army and Navy Association Building

The old Army and Navy Association Building, later known as the Portsmouth Community Center and the Connie Bean Community Center, is located at 143 Daniel Street, on the southeast corner of Daniel and Chapel Streets.

The Abraham Staples House once stood on this corner. A two-story dwelling with a configuration similar to many other homes in the city, it was torn town before 1916. At the time of this writing, I cannot find any information about Abraham Staples, and the only photograph I have located of the home is this Portsmouth Athenaeum photographic record.

The cornerstone of the building that would become the Connie Bean Community Center was laid in 1916 and construction was completed in 1917.

During World War I, work was booming at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and the Army and Navy Association Building was constructed to serve as a recreation center for military personnel when not on duty. During World War II, the building served as a United Service Organization (USO) Center.

Following WWII, the building was released from active duty and became a civic recreational building called the Portsmouth Community Center. Starting from the outset in 1946, the building was a popular place for amateur athletics and youth gatherings,  as well as art and sports classes. Two second-floor meeting rooms were constantly in use by civic and charitable organizations.

The old black-and-white photograph below appeared in Portsmouth's Annual Report for 1945-1947. A caption below the picture reads, "Portsmouth's New Community Center, Daniels Street". My photographs were taken during a Portsmouth walk on December 9, 2012, after the recreational department had vacated the building.


In 1951, the Community Center was extensively renovated and new bleachers that were donated by the Army and Navy Association of Portsmouth were installed. The following year, according to Portsmouth's Annual Report for 1952, "the Community Center was used by approximately 35,000 people during the course of the year. A total of 35 organizations held regularly scheduled weekly or monthly meetings in the two second floor meeting rooms. Annual social functions such as the Policemen’s Ball, Firemen’s Ball and Elk’s Ball were held. An adult basketball league and adult badminton league were in operation each week during the winter season. Classes were held in photography, art, boxing, arts and crafts, children and adult archery." The popular venue also hosted a children's basketball league, a table tennis tournament, and teenage dances every Saturday night during the winter.

The Community Center also served as the Ward Five voting place until 1973, when voting was moved to the Little Harbour School. The facility was renamed the ‘Connie Bean Community Center’ after that long-serving and beloved recreation department employee died in 1984.


The old building decayed over the years, forcing the city to close the second-floor meeting rooms and the basement for safety reasons in 2008. According to this Seacoastonline.com article, Portsmouth sold the old Army and Navy Association Building at auction to the Hampshire Development Corp. in December 2012. The Connie Bean Community Center is now located in an extension of the redeveloped Portsmouth Middle School at 155 Parrott Avenue.

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