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An era ends at a beloved clubhouse
For five decades, the South End Community Club was at the heart of a thriving neighborhood on the southern tip of Vashon.
Families held monthly potlucks at the simple, two-story structure perched above the Tahlequah ferry dock. They threw Halloween parties for their kids, held Fourth of July parties replete with parades and marked milestones in their tight-knit community — graduation parties, wedding receptions, memorial services.
Now, after watching the demographics of their neighborhood shift and the building fall into disuse, the 20 or so remaining members of the South End Community Club have decided to gift their property to Vashon Island Fire & Rescue.
“There’s a time to finish something off if it’s not working anymore,” said Carol Slaughter, who, with her husband Al, helped build the structure. “I’m a little sad. But for 50 years, we had a real good place here.”
“We had so many fun activities,” recalled Bob Hallowell, another member.
The community, he added, centered around the kids — and there were a lot of them.
“Now, there are almost no children,” he said, adding, “The clubhouse just doesn’t have an active group that meets there and supports it anymore.”
Club members met three weeks ago and voted unanimously — with one abstention — to give the property to the fire department. It was a move that made perfect sense, members said. The structure was built in part to provide fire service to the south end of Vashon — a fire truck is parked in the bottom half of the building — and VIFR has nearly 50 years left in the 99-year lease it received when the clubhouse was constructed.
Fire Chief Hank Lipe said he’s pleased by the members’ decision. The building is simple, but the property — a third of an acre with a remarkable view — could have fetched a handsome price, he said.
“They have a huge asset. They could have gone the other way,” Lipe noted. “For the taxpayers and the community, it’s a great situation, anytime we can pick up an asset like this.”
Club members are also pleased with the impending transfer, in part because it makes so much sense.
“There’s just a real pleasure in keeping the building for its intended use for the community,” said Julie Burman, who has lived at Tahlequah for 12 years.
What’s more, she said, even without an official clubhouse, she believes residents will continue to gather for their annual picnic and their quarterly walks along the beach picking up the trash.
“There’s still very much a sense of place here,” Burman said.
The South End Community Club came into existence during a simpler and far different time on Vashon, members recalled. Several decades ago, many of the Island’s communities felt separate and apart, and people turned to each other for support and social events. Indeed, several of Vashon’s communities had a clubhouse that served as their focal point.
Tahlequah residents wanted one, too, and for years — starting in the 1940s — they held bake sales and rummage sales to try to garner the funds, according to the Slaughters, the only two original club members still living on Vashon.
Al Slaughter’s father Holt was at the heart of the effort, Al recalled. He incorporated the club (without a clubhouse) in the 1940s and was the club’s first officer. They met in people’s homes until the club eventually bought the corner lot where the clubhouse now stands.
It was when Tahlequah residents decided they needed to replace their tiny 1933 fire engine — described as “an amusing relic” in an article by The Tacoma News Tribune — that all the pieces came together to construct an actual structure.
Al was a volunteer captain of Station 3, a small garage that’s still standing at the corner of Vashon Highway and Pohl Road and where the 1933 fire engine was housed.
The small engine, however, wouldn’t always start; often, community members had to give it a push to get it going. A bigger, newer truck, meanwhile, wouldn’t fit into the small garage that housed their 1933 engine.
“So I came up with the idea,” Al recalled. “Let’s have the fire department and south-enders join forces.”
He went to the fire commissioners and sought their support. The commissioners endorsed the plan, and both parties — the fire department and the south-enders — threw in $7,000 to build the combined fire station/community hall.
Much sweat equity went into the construction project, the Slaughters said. Carol estimated that 25 Islanders helped in the construction. “It was a labor of love,” Al said.
And for years, the 1,900-square-foot structure played just the role they had hoped for — providing a gathering spot for the close-knit neighborhood. They held lectures and exercise classes at the clubhouse. Al’s 60th birthday party took place there, as did his daughter’s wedding reception. They put on musicals, New Year’s parties and game nights.
“We didn’t have anything else,” Carol recalled as she and Al sat in their modest waterfront cabin just west of the ferry dock. “We depended on each other.”
Bob Hallowell and his wife Claire owned a weekend cabin at Tahlequah, where they lived during the summer months. They, too, had wonderful times, Bob said. He recalled one “pet parade,” when his daughter, then 3 or 4, carried a bucket with a jellyfish in it as her pet.
When Hallowell retired from his job at The Seattle Times, he and his wife moved to a home at Corbin Beach, but they maintained their membership in the South End Community Club.
“We so enjoyed the people,” he said. “They were such good friends.”
Over the years, though, the demographics of the Island began to change. There were fewer families, Hallowell said, and those who lived at Tahlequah seemed busier; kids, instead of hanging around, were carted off to sports practices or dance lessons.
It was harder to find people who could volunteer the hours needed to maintain the structure. Bob Sargent, a member, said he’d beat back the blackberries to unbury the regulation-size horseshoe pit, only to have to do again the next summer.
The club thought about different approaches to maintaining their ownership, said Sargent, the club’s secretary. Could they rent it out more frequently, for instance, and generate a bit more revenue? But they realized its location made that difficult, Sargent said.
The vote to end their ownership was difficult for some of the long-time members. But they also all realize that this is the way of almost all clubhouses anymore, Carol Slaughter said. Indeed, she thinks theirs might be the only one left in the region.
What’s more, those active in the community plan to continue to hold gatherings at the clubhouse, a use the fire department will continue to allow. Two years ago, Burman recalled, they held a movie night at the site, using the side of the building as their outdoor screen.
“Families came from all over the Island,” she said. “That could be repeated anytime.”
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