Friday, August 17, 2012

It's hard to imagine how important the City Park Casino has been to Monett. In a town that has been challenged to keep a serviceable auditorium until the 1920s, the casino became the catch-all for all times.

And what a place. The lounge offered an intimate place for a half-dozen or more to gather. The hall could accommodate a dance of 100 or a crowd of hundreds of children assembled at a Quarterback Club meeting where a nationally known sports figure would speak.

Hundreds of proms were held there over the decades. Other nearby towns who had even fewer gathering places rented the casino for their high school dances. Literally generations of Monettans became better acquainted within those four walls.

From its very first year, the casino provided good accommodations for bands. You could still hear the reason why in May when the Ozark Festival Orchestra played its pops concert there. The big wood room lent a warm feeling to live music. Even tentative musicians could sound very good in that setting.

According to statistics compiled by City Administrator Dennis Pyle, the casino was booked an average of 236 days a year between 2009 and 2011. Roughly two out of three days a year there was an event going on there, including weddings, reunions, anniversaries, business meetings, parties, church services and voting.

Colossal meals were served there. The War Mothers entertained soldiers from Camp Crowder at the casino during World War II. The last of the Arts Composit Teaspoon Tasting Luncheons and the first of the Monett Chamber of Commerce's Festival of Flavors were there. The kitchen served as a full-fledged meal-creating operation long before it settled into just a warming center. The plates and the beloved coffee maker served armies of passers-through.

Fortunately we won't get to miss the casino for long. City council members recognized the unique and enduring contribution made by this one building and chose to replace it rather than find some ultra-modern substitute or forget about the idea entirely. Next summer, we'll have a new casino.

Still, seeing it go this week was hard. The temptation was strong to pull up a lawn chair and relive every moment as the trackhoe bit into different parts of the structure. Like the people who met there, the building had become an old friend. It will live on in our memories.