'Soul Of The City,' 96-Year-Old Former School Gets New Life As Cultural Center In Fort Lauderdale

Jan 31, 2018

It took a few hurricanes, some delays, and more than 14 years of volunteer work to turn what used to be South Side Elementary School into the new South Side Cultural Arts Center.

The 96-year-old historic building that now houses the center was one of Broward County’s first elementary schools. It neighbors the Florence C. Hardy Park and is just a few blocks away from the city’s Las Olas Boulevard. 

 

The city of Fort Lauderdale celebrated the grand opening of the South Side Cultural Arts Center Tuesday night. To commemorate the occasion, Mayor Jack Seiler gave his final State of the City Address there on the same night as the president’s State of the Union. 

Kathleen Ginestra is one of the people who worked to make sure the center would open. A volunteer with the group Friends of South Side, she said, with tears in her eyes, that she’s been waiting to see this center open since 2001. 

“This was just a vision, from the beginning, for this building, and I get choked up when I talk about this.” 

Ruth Lutz, 80, also gets choked up about this building. She was among the estimated 500 people who came to the opening, and she was an elementary student here in 1943. Her name was Ruth Lund then. The new fitness room was her third grade classroom. 

“My second grade was across the hall and she was Ms. Norris,” she said, reminiscing about her teacher. “Just to see all of this is really, very special.”

At the center's ribbon-cutting, Lutz was the honored guest. She now has a plaque on display inside the building, recognizing her and all the South Side Elementary alumni. 

The stairs are the same, and so are the Miami-Dade pine floors. The original windows had to be reinforced to prevent further leaks during storms.

More than 75 cooking, arts, theater, dance, music and photography classes will be offered to the community starting Thursday. To take a class, the current course prices run between $32 and $150. More class offerings, like robotics and coding for kids, are set to begin soon.

The second floor of the center is set to house the offices for the Parks and Recreation Department.

The center was originally scheduled to open in September of last year, but Hurricane Irma and some window leaks caused delays. The cost of renovating the South Side School building into the arts center, and the area around it, amounted to approximately $15 million, the mayor’s office said. A little over $5 million was grant money. 

In a tent just outside of the center, Fort Lauderdale’s Mayor Seiler gave his last State of the City Address. He’s been the city’s mayor for the past nine years, and he said just before the speech, that he wanted to focus on the positive changes. 

“When I can celebrate nine years of job growth, celebrate nine years of economic expansion and nine years of really good economic prosperity, it’s a special night,” he said. “We’ve expanded dozens of parks… so we’ve really had a good balance, I think, of the economic success, but we made sure we focused on quality of life issues. I’m going to miss this job.”

During the address, Seiler mentioned the challenges of the Wave streetcar and the future of public transportation for the commission ahead. He told the city:

“The state of the city of Fort Lauderdale is stronger than ever before.”