This site is part of the Black Springs tour, a partnership with Our Story, Inc. Visit the Tours page for the tour introduction and complete list of sites.
Black Springs did not have a community center of its own until 1970, when the neighborhood's youth group, P.O.W.E.R. (People Organized to Work for Equal Recognition) took the lead to establish one. The group had been organized in May of 1969. Its officers were Thurman Carthen Jr., President; Keith Carthen, Vice President; and Helen Townsell, Secretary/Treasurer. The Advisory Council consisted of Larry Westbrook, Chairman, and members Anthony Townsell and Debra Lobster. At first, they met at the home of Andy Gordon, a VISTA volunteer who became like a big brother to the neighborhood's kids.
Local developer George A. Probasco had donated 6.3 acres of land to Washoe County for a community center and playground in 1969. With Andy's help, the members of P.O.W.E.R. purchased a house from the State Highway Department (which the agency had obtained through condemnation) in 1970 for $500 and had it moved from the Coney Island area to Black Springs. There, residents and other volunteers undertook the extensive renovation required to turn it into a functional community center. A social science class at the University of Nevada donated new windows.
The park where the building sits was originally known as the Black Springs Community Park. In July of 1970, the president of P.O.W.E.R., Thurman Carthen, asked the Washoe County Board of Commissioners to name the park "after a Black leader," offering as suggestions Hiram Huey, Martin Luther King Jr., and Eldridge Cleaver. The following month the Commission complied, naming it Martin Luther King Memorial Park. To create the playground, the Reno Thrift Club donated swings, and the Reno Arch Lions funded a small merry-go-round, Sierra Paving donated asphalt for a basketball court, and Reno Iron Works provided the basketball hoops.
The Center quickly became the home of a branch of the Head Start program for the neighborhood's preschool children. Black Springs never had its own schools, so school-age children were bused into Reno. In 1972, volunteers secured books to open a library inside the center.
A new community center building was constructed on the site in 1983 and named for Helen and Ollie Westbrook in 2006.