The Mateel Community Center is located on a west facing hillside overlooking the little town of Redway, California.  Serving as the cultural hub of the Southern Humboldt community, the Mateel Organization provides art, educational, and social service programs and a myriad of multicultural musical, theatrical, dance, comedy, film, and craft events.

The seeds that grew into the Mateel Community Center were planted in 1978 when a group of progressive young people purchased the old Firemen’s Hall in Garberville as a gathering place for meetings and dances.  This building was burned down by an arsonist in 1983, after which a major fundraising campaign was developed to rebuild the center in its current location in Redway.  I was hired in 1984 to design the new center.  As most of my previous experience was with single family dwellings this project was both exciting and challenging.  The budget was very limited but community spirit was high.  Over 10,000 man hours of volunteer labor went into the construction and from their rural properties community members donated whole trees to be milled into building materials.

The Mateel Community Center hall has a maximum occupancy of 800 people and is a showcase of fine woodwork and passive solar design, with a full service commercial kitchen, state of the art sound and lighting, and a removable stage.  Featuring a large balcony, huge windows, and a sunny portico, the Mateel has been the chosen venue for thousands of events, programs, classes, weddings, meetings, and memorials presented by more than 300 different user groups and individuals.

The building is dug into the side of the hill with a 10′ retaining wall  across the west end, allowing on-grade access from the upper floor.  The retaining wall extends to the south in a sweeping curve, from 10′ high to grade, enclosing the southern patio.  The basic structure of the building is composed of 12″x 12″x 20′ fir columns (milled from donated trees) on 12′ centers on the north and south sides.  Curved trusses, 70′ wide (from an old decommissioned lumber mill), are connected to the tops of the columns with custom steel brackets.  Two of the 12′ bays, extend on the north side to accommodate stairs and and an office and delineate the main entrance.  Two bays on the south face are indented 6′ to form the covered part of the south patio.  The mezzanine goes along the north side, covering the entry, and curves along the west end, covering the kitchen, dining area and bathrooms. There’s an outside “smoking deck” off the end of the mezzanine on the south side. The sound and light booth, directly facing the stage, is slightly lower than the mezzanine. It is cantilevered over the serving window between the kitchen and main assembly area.  Seven round and evenly spaced concrete columns hold up the mezzanine.

The 35′ wide arched window on the west wall, behind the removable stage, is actually the proscenium arch for a permanent stage.  A three story stage complex was planned for future:  half-fly stage, wings and practice rooms on the main level, dressing rooms above, and art studios and classrooms below (at the parking lot level).  The center has been in continual use for the past 25 years using the removable stage.  Maybe some future generation will have the energy to add the permanent stage complex.

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