SEASIDE — Mary Blake believes in the power of stories.

“Stories bring us together and bring us here,” Blake said last month from the steps of the newly dedicated Mary Blake Playhouse. “We are all connected in so many ways.”

Blake wants the playhouse bearing her name to foster and bolster these community connections – to be a place where the community can convene.

“I would hope that people would walk by this and have their eye caught by how beautiful it is,” she said.

The Mary Blake Playhouse was a labor of love for its namesake, who worked as general manager of the Sunset Empire Recreation Department for 28 years. The playhouse is a former Boy Scout hut that had been neglected for years. 

“The house fell into disrepair,” said Justin Cutler, Blake’s successor as general manager for the park district. Blake “rallied the community to revitalize (it).”

The hut had a leaky roof, shaky floors and housed a host of community critters.

“You didn’t know who lived there between the rats and the raccoons,” Blake said.

Blake and her colleagues’ efforts to repair the hut and its grounds began in 2006, when the parks department purchased the property on which the Boy Scout hut sat.

The renovations were slow-going at first and required a concerted community effort.

It took “a lot of delicate persistence to stay with it,” Blake said. The department’s options for the hut were simple: “clean it up or take it down,” Blake said.

In order to repair the Boy Scout hut, the parks department needed the permission of Clatsop County, which technically owns the building. The county gave Blake and her cohorts the OK, as long as they used the structure in “the spirit it was intended,” according to Blake.

Blake hopes the Mary Blake Playhouse will capture this spirit, envisioning it as a meeting place for everyone from Boy Scouts to book clubs to returning war veterans struggling to adapt to life back in the United States.

“This building will give them the support of not only the structural support, but you want these common areas where people can visit and get connected,” she said.

The focal point of the newly dedicated building is a bubbling fountain designed by Tom Chatterton, a landscape design consultant, who has worked on numerous city projects, including the nearby skate park.

Chatterton selected Idaho quartz for the layered rock fountain. The quartz’ mica content gives the fountain a slight iridescence when the morning sun shines.

“It just glows from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.,” Chatterton said.

As she stood near the fountain, Blake urged visitors to “take a moment to listen to the water.”

The fountain sits among carefully selected shrubs, plants and trees.

“All of these plants were chosen in a nursery in the foothills of Mount Hood,” Chatterton said, noting that the grounds featured several species not often seen on the North Coast.

Before Blake cut the ribbon, Mike Hinton, the chairman of Sunset Empire Parks and Recreation, summed up how many of those present felt about Blake’s contributions to the community.

“It’s hard to thank her enough,” Hinton said. “Everything she’s touched is made better.”

   

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