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Hibernian Hall celebrates 100 years in Roxbury

Kassmin Williams | 10/9/2013, 12:11 p.m.
Hibernian Hall still stands at 184 Dudley St., where it was built a century ago. To commemorate the Roxbury staple’s ...
Johnetta Tinker is among the artists and arts educators who will receive Community Catalyst Awards from Madison Park Development Corp. at Hibernian Hall on Thursday evening, Oct. 10. @Lolita Parker, Jr.

Roxbury has transformed in many ways over the last 100 years.

The demographics are much different and a number of construction and demolition projects have taken place in that time, but one thing that has remained a constant is Hibernian Hall.

The building still stands at 184 Dudley St., where it was built a century ago.

To commemorate the Roxbury staple’s centennial, Madison Park Development Corporation and Next Street Financial have included a special program in the annual fund-raising “Spark for the Arts” gala from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, in the Hibernian Hall ballroom.

Hibernian Hall artistic director Dillon Bustin described the ballroom as a gathering place for “wave after wave of arrivals in the Boston area.”

In its early days, the building had a bowling alley and a billiard parlor in the basement, meeting rooms on the first and second floors, a small auditorium on the second floor and a large ballroom that covered the third and fourth floors.

One of five dance halls at the time, Hibernian hall served as a place where Irish Americans from the region gathered for recreation, entertainment and a variety of meetings from 1913 until the early ‘60s, when the lease was let go, according to Bustin.

A few years later, it was used as a job-training center. The center closed in 1990 and Hibernian Hall remained vacant for a decade until current owner Madison Park Development Corporation purchased the building and began restoration and renovation.

Since opening to the public in 2005, Hibernian Hall has reverted back to its original purpose, serving as a cultural center and meeting place in the community.

A strong arts emphasis has been placed on the hall, which has hosted theater productions, educational plays, jazz performances and social dances.

“To me, 1913 does seem like a long time ago. So many changes have taken place and I have studied old maps and I’ve seen what was here before the hall was built. And I’ve seen a lot of the demolition and reconstruction that’s happened around the neighborhood through the decades,” Bustin said.

“It’s very poignant to think that it’s the last hall of its type standing and it’s still fully functional, completely restored and very active for the community.”

The entertainment center will revert back to its roots during “Spark for the Arts.” Irish band Comhaltus Ceoltóirí Éireann will be playing instrumental interludes and dancers from Heavey-Quinn Academy of Irish Dance will perform a number called “See You at the Hall.”

Author Susan Gedutis Lindsay will also speak at the event. Lindsay wrote the book “See You at the Hall: Boston’s Golden Era of Irish Music and Dance,” which looks back at the dancehall scene in Roxbury.

Another highlight of the event is the presentation of Community Catalyst Awards recognizing artists and art educators in the community.

An award will be presented to Larry Reynolds Jr. and Mike Reynolds, the sons of Irish musician Larry Reynolds, who passed away last year. Bustin described Larry Reynolds as a “strong community leader in the field of traditional music and dance.”

Other awards will be given to Johnette Tinker, director of community programs at Isabella Stewart Gardner; Quita Sullivan, manager of the National Theater Project with New England Foundation for the Arts; Fred Woodard, a Boston teacher who teaches at the Roland Hayes Music-Center; and Milton Wright and Marilyn Andry, co-founders of The Butterfly Project.