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Gilbert House Boys Club. Memories from the 1970s

Gilbert House Boys Club. Memories from the 1970s image Gilbert House Boys Club. Memories from the 1970s image
Robert and Eric Anscheutz
Rights Held By
Ypsilanti Historical Society
OCR Text

When twins Robert and Eric Anschuetz were in the 4th or 5th grade in the mid-1970’s, their mother went back to work. Since she could no longer be home when the boys returned from school, it was decided they should go directly from school to the Ypsilanti Boys Club, where they could join with other boys in wholesome, supervised activities. The Boys Club was located in what was once the family residence of businessman John Gilbert, Jr., and was only a short walk from the Adams Elementary School at Prospect and Forest, which the boys attended. The building, now an apartment house, has since been restored to the original beauty of the Gilbert House, but in the 1970’s it was in need of repair and tarnished by peeling white paint and rotting trim. If it hadn’t been used by the Boys Club, it might well have been at risk of condemnation. But, being three stories tall with an attic and a basement, it was plenty large enough to host a variety of activities for Ypsilanti boys. There were certainly great things to do for pre-teen boys like Robert and Eric. In the basement was a large wood shop. It offered an abundance of free wood for building things, and power tools were available to use under adult supervision. To this day, the twins remember vividly the smell of sawdust that greeted them on opening the door to the basement. They recall getting involved in many projects, but not specifically what they entailed or whether any of the pieces they created were ever displayed in their own house. The only item they distinctly remember building was a wooden boat that had a paddle that spun around on a rubber band. The attic of the Boys Club held a world-class slot car track that was only made available on the weekend for races. The track was large and had many overpasses and underpasses. The slot cars themselves were also untypically large. Robert and Eric would watch mesmerized as the cars raced around the track lap after lap. Their enthusiasm for slot cars soon became evident to their parents, and on one Christmas or birthday they received their own set of cars and tracks. After plenty of practice at home to master their racing skills, they decided to take the cars from the set and race them on the big track at the Boys Club. Unfortunately, the cars in their own set were smaller than the ones normally used on the Boys Club track. In competition, they were both hard to control and easily overpowered by the larger cars. The main activity at the Boys Club was pool, which was played on the numerous billiard and bumper-pool tables found in almost every room of the spacious Gilbert House. By much practice in their frequent visits to the Boys Club, and by carefully observing the techniques of other boys, the Anschuetz twins eventually became quite skilled at pool. One of their opponents with whom they played a lot was a young pool hustler named Stewart - a legend at bumper pool. Once Robert and Eric watched him “run the table” to win a game. He sank five straight balls right at the start by banking them all off of the wall and into the pocket at the other end of the table. With that kind of inspiration, the twins would spend hours playing bumper pool, 8-ball, 9-ball, and “rotation.” Staying refreshed for this frantic activity wasn’t an issue. Each room in the Gilbert House also had an accompanying pop machine! It was at the Boys Club, in fact, that Robert and Eric fell in love with Fanta pop. One year, the twins joined a basketball league at the Boys Club. Eric was on the Trail Blazers and Robert was on the Warriors. All they can recall now about playing in the league was that their uniform shirts were so long on their short bodies that they looked almost as if they were wearing dresses. Nevertheless, they regularly wore the shirts to school so they wouldn’t have to change into their uniforms at home and could get into games that began at the Boys Club right after school. Despite that dedication, however, the twins remember painfully that they virtually never scored a basket over their taller opponents. It was a different story, though, with another activity. Robert and Eric learned how to shoot BB guns in the basement of the Boys Club, in events known as “Turkey Shoots.” They got pretty good at shooting and may even have won some contests. On weekends, when the twins would stay at the Boys Club literally all day long, they were given lunch money to go to the nearby Burger Chef on Michigan Avenue for hamburgers and fries. During one of the lunches, the boys heard a loud crash. It turned out that a train had hit a car on Grove Road. Some boys from the club ran to the scene and helped rescue the driver, who fortunately was not killed. Several weeks later, the man came to the Boys Club and thanked the boys who had helped him out. Memories like that can shape a young life, and the Anschuetz twins, along with many other Ypsilanti boys who grew up in the 1970s, can certainly attest that they learned important life lessons through their activities in and around the Ypsilanti Boys Club. Robert and Eric stopped going to the Boys Club around the time the new Boys Club complex was built next to the Gilbert House. The new building was a green, box-shaped building with no windows. In the twins’ opinion, it had no charm or character at all. Half of the fun of the old building was to discover previously unexplored rooms in the house. Kids could almost always find one more room to look around in or play pool. The new building completely lost that mystique of mystery. Shortly after the Anschuetz boys ended regular visits to the Boys Club, it made the national news by a tragic twist in a bus trip the staff had organized to Disney World in April, 1978. As the bus entered a rest stop in Georgia on its way down to Florida, the brakes failed and it ran off the road, killing three young boys. The event was publicized in national newspapers and even on network television. In fact, the Ypsilanti Press published a rare second edition to fully cover the tragedy. The Anschuetz twins knew some of the boys on the bus but fortunately, none of the boys they knew were among the seriously injured. Eric and Robert have many fond memories of the Boys Club - even of its removal from the Gilbert House in 1974. With that development, the Gilbert House was sold by vote of the city taxpayers for $1 and, with a large investment and much work, divided into stylish apartments and restored to its former glory. Robert and Eric are glad that, even today, people are able to explore the old mansion as they did when they were kids. Who knows, some of them might even be playing pool in a room where they themselves took on the legendary bumper-pool hustler! (Robert and Eric Anschuetz wrote a story about the Camperdown Elm in the Winter 2012 issue of the Gleanings. Kurt, the youngest of the Anschuetz family has published an “Ypsilanti Timeline” on the website of the Prospect Park Neighborhood Association.)

Photo Captions: 1. The refurbished Gilbert House, which once hosted the Boys Club that Robert and Eric frequented, now serves as a stylish apartment house.

2. The new Boys Club facility, built next to the Gilbert House in the late 1970s.