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In Milton Hershey’s memory: Cocoa Avenue Plaza

Cocoa Avenue Plaza swimming pool.  ca.1965

Cocoa Avenue Plaza swimming pool. ca.1965

 

Just prior to his death, Milton Hershey set aside 18.25 acres to create Memorial Field, a community park with a playground and sports fields in the heart of residential Hershey.  Plans for Memorial Field were extensive and not all could be developed at first.

 

Several years later, Sam Hinkle, president of the Hershey Chocolate Corporation, decided to expand the existing Memorial Field with several amenities, some of which had been envisioned in the original plans for Memorial Field. When plans for the new facility were announced, Sam Hinkle was quoted in a Hershey News article that the new recreational facility was “being built as a memorial to the late Milton S. Hershey, town founder.”    The article went on to explain that the Cocoa Avenue Plaza was being built and constructed with Chocolate Corporation funds.

 

Laurie & Green, a Harrisburg, PA architectural firm, designed the new facility.  Inspired by Milton Hershey’s love of innovation, plans for Cocoa Avenue Plaza incorporated modern and innovative design and engineering.  H.B. Alexander and Sons, Inc. of Harrisburg, PA was selected as the general contractor for the project.  The new pool, was built to then current NCAA standards, and could function as an indoor or outdoor facility, thanks to its retractable roof.  John Zerbe, then in charge of Hershey’s recreation program, described the unique features of the pool complex in his 1996 oral history:

It was probably the first swimming pool [of its kind] in the country like it, and we had people from all over the country come in to look at that building, but it was the first pool in the country to actually use almost a water company quality chlorination process.  It was the first pool in the country to use PVC piping all around, and, obviously, it was the first pool in the country to use the kind of opening-dome design that we used.  The real structural design of that was absolutely phenomenal, and it all basically rotated on a humongous pin at the top.�

I thought that design and the corporate resolve here to build that kind of a building was very visionary.  I can’t imagine too many corporations willing to go after that kind of design and see it through.

The pool's walls can fully retract to create a completly outdoor pool.  ca.1965

The pool's walls can fully retract to create a completly outdoor pool. ca.1965

 

Dedication of the Plaza was originally planned for September 13, 1963.  However, delays in finishing work and time needed to trouble shoot the new mechanical systems caused the dedication to be delayed.  All construction was finally completed on October 12 and the dedication ceremonies were held on October 20, 1963.

Heart of the Community: Hershey’s Community Building

  

 

Hershey Community Building, 1933
Hershey Community Building, 1933

 

Originally planned for 1916 and finally constructed during Hershey’s Great Building Campaign of the 1930s, the goal of the building was to provide entertainment and recreation, as well as to fulfill educational and civic functions for the entire town. World War I and subsequent financial challenges for Hershey Chocolate Company delayed its construction.  Finally in November 1928 ground was broken.  The building was completed in September 1932 and officially dedicated in September 1933 as part of the Town’s 30th anniversary celebration.
 

The primary function of the Building’s recreational facilities was for the use of the Hershey Men’s Club.  The Men’s Club offered an extensive range of programs and activities for the boys and men of Hershey.  The facilities were very impressive.

Game Room: 180 feet long, contains four bowling alleys, a court for practicing driving golf ball or putting, three shuffleboard tables, four ping pong tables, five pocket billiard tables for men, one billiard table for boys, a table for curoque, and a section devoted to games for boys in addition to tables for cards, checkers, chess, etc.

Game Room, Community Building; ca. 1932-1942

Game Room, ca.1932-1942

On same floor is a swimming pool 75 feet long by 25 feet wide, 3 – 9 1/2  feet deep,  with three spring boards.  Separate showers for men and boys
 
Community Building Swimming Pool, ca. 1950-1960 
 
 
Gymnasium:  (80 x 44 feet with 35 foot ceiling) for class work, volley ball, basketball, softball, badminton and special exercising rooms as well as two courts for four-wall hand ball, also can be used as squash courts.
 
 
Men's Club Junior Division, Community Building Gymnasium, ca.1935

Men's Club Junior Division, Community Building Gymnasium, ca.1935

The Archives oral history collections contain many memories of the Community Building and how important it was to the residents, particularly the children.  Many men shared memories of their childhoods spending afternoons and evenings at the Community Building:
 

Frank Simione (93OH02):

In the early years, from starting at my eighth birthday, we belonged to the Hershey Community Building, which at that time was called Community Club for us, where they had the Hershey hospital on the sixth floor, later became the Hershey Junior College. At eight years old, we belonged to this Community Building, where we learned all the athletic sports, all types of games. I think it was three dollars for six months, and you started as a cadet and went up to a junior, and then you went into intermediate, then you went into a senior program.

Spending all that time and all those years there, I learned many athletic games and as much as all the small games that you would play, like checkers and dominos and pool and ping-pong and bowling. We were fortunate to have this facility. At the time, we didn’t know any better, but as we grew, and later on in life, we found that that was a beautiful place for kids to go.

To learn more about the Archives’ oral history collections use this link to visit the Archives online collections database.