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Craft Village lives on in memory

"Those were the days, my friend, I thought they'd never end."

Our family was discussing a wedding we recently attended, specifically the wedding reception. It was lavish! Dinner music by a classical guitarist, sit-down catered dinner, open bar and a rock 'n' roll dance band after dinner. The festivities went on until midnight.

"Well," said our oldest daughter, Beth. "My wedding reception was at Craft Village. We had punch and cake and nuts and mints _ so there!"

"And the lady guests all wore hats and gloves," piped up Michele.

"I thought it was beautiful," said Sue. "But I was only 7, so what did I know?"

"What's Craft Village? Where's Craft Village?" asked Chris.

"Craft Village, on the corner of 27th Avenue and Fourth Street," I answered. "It was always a magical place to me and I still miss it. I always feel sad when I pass by. I remember you girls taking dancing lessons in the little cottage adjacent to the main building. Nina Maschino taught ballet, tap and acrobatics. She also had an adult class in the evening and I took jazz modern dancing. It was a good way to keep in shape before they invented aerobics!"

The main building, as well as the cottage, was painted barn-red and, in fact, the building resembled a barn. Inside there were several studios. Each studio housed an interesting enterprise. One studio, No. 23, was called "The Class Room." When my church didn't have a place for the Ladies Guild to meet, we met in the class room at Craft Village. There was a small restaurant, a gift shop consisting of country crafts and shell costume jewelry, a photographer, handwriting analysis, and portrait painting by Marian Terry.

Nettie and Gene taught Hawaiian dancing in another studio. Marian Terry taught art. During the winter months, MaryAnn Dentler came down from her summer theater in Cooperstown, N.Y., and taught drama in the class room.

Toward the rear of the building, there was a stage and seating for about 100 people. Amateur contests were popular and well attended. Ms. Dentler's drama class did scenes from well-known plays such as Death of a Salesman, Irene, Carousel and even Joan of Arc.

During the Christmas season there was always an art show.

Naturally, I took advantage of whatever was offered. I studied drama with MaryAnn Dentler and one time even posed for one of Marian Terry's art classes. It's a joke in our family about the time I was asked to be an artist's model because I had a figure like a peasant! That's right! Marian was looking for a sturdily-built person to model for her students and she chose me. (In those days you weren't called fat _ you were called "sturdy.")

As I stood on the platform in my leotard, Marian pointed out the "broad shoulders," the large head, the big hands. I knew then I would never be "Miss America."

One year, a few of us from St. Petersburg Little Theatre decided to put together a "breakfast club." We performed in the restaurant three times a week, about 9 a.m. I, being the only female, not only sang along with the men but gave out my favorite recipes. We always opened and closed with a hymn. We were hoping to be "discovered" by a radio station. It seems ridiculous now, as I look back, but I was game for anything in those days; and we had a good time. The customers did, too. They sang right along with us.

I wonder if Craft Village could ever be revived. Would this generation enjoy what we did way back then? I think the last Christmas art show was in 1964. There were summer activities as late as 1967 and then, in 1968, a hardware store moved in and the magic was gone. But from 1957 to 1967, my family and I were a big part of Craft Village.

"Those were the days, my friend"

Eleanor D. Ryan lives in St. Petersburg and is the mother of five and the grandmother of 12.

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