Debbie Scott, Union, remembers The Place fondly. If you don’t know what “place” she’s referring to, you’re probably either younger than 50 years old or you moved to Franklin County sometime after the late ’70s.
The Place was a teenage hangout in Union established in the late ’60s by a parent youth organization under the leadership of Ervin and Lucille Aholt, who owned the local hobby and office supply shop.
The Place closed back in the mid-’70s, but portions of it resurfaced recently as workers gutting the old prosecuting attorney’s office on Main Street got further into their work.
A peace sign, the word “LOVE” in a font of the times, and a mod pattern wall covering have been uncovered on a back wall where bands used to hold concerts at The Place.
Plans are to renovate the old prosecuting attorney’s office, now located on the second floor of the Historic Franklin County Courthouse, so the Franklin County Health Department can move in, said Second District Commissioner Ann Schroeder.
The health department currently operates out of a rented space on Oak Street, but the building on Main Street is county-owned, Schroeder explained.
During a routine visit to the Main Street building to check progress of the demo work, Schroeder laughed when she saw the old Place decor.
“When I walked in to talk to the crew, I looked over and saw it all, I started laughing,” she said. “I just went right back to 1970-something.”
Schroeder, who has lived in Union all of her life, said she used to frequent The Place back when she was in high school and remembers listening to bands play in that very spot.
“It was fun going back,” she said. “It was a nice thing to remember.”
Scott, whose parents were the Aholts who helped get The Place going, enjoyed the trip down memory lane, too. She was on the younger side of the teens who populated The Place, but she used to go there after school since her mom was often there volunteering.
“A lot of memories came back seeing (the decor),” said Scott. “I could almost see the hustle and bustle. It was kind of strange seeing it after all of these years.”
She remembers well how The Place came to be. It was at the family dinner table when her mom announced that something should be done so local teens had a place to hang out where they wouldn’t get into trouble.
The Aholts had big hearts when it came to children, said Scott, noting they had adopted her and her two brothers. They liked to see kids having good, clean fun.
“They had a slot car track in the basement of their shop, so kids, teenagers like 14 and 15 and older, used to come there to hang out because there was nothing for them to do,” Scott recalled.
When the shop closed for the evening, though, the teens again found themselves with nothing to do. So the Aholts often invited them over to their house “to play pool or cards or just talk,” according to an article about The Place by Barb Muir in an October 1971 issue of the East Central College campus newspaper, The Cornerstone.
“Before long the idea of organizing a teen center was brought to the Aholts by a group of young people,” the article reads. “Having had previous experience in youth activities, such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4-H, the Aholts knew what they were getting themselves into.”
The teens and some other adults — Scott mentioned Alan Huxel, Dennis Soetebier and Denny Jett as being involved early on — formed the Parent Youth Organization and began raising money to create a teen center. They held dances at the Union City Park and eventually had enough money to look for a building.
“An old furniture store seemed to be ‘the place,’ ” Muir’s article states. “Although the rent was ‘extremely high’ and they had to repair and fix it at their own expense, the P.Y.O. decided to take the building.”
The name was an obvious choice.
“Kids had been saying, ‘We don’t have a place to go,’ so they all said, ‘Let’s just call it The Place,’ ” said Scott.
The rules were kept simple, too, she said — behave well, and you could stay.
The space was divided into areas for different activities. One room was strictly for watching TV and doing homework. Another area had pinball machines and another area was where food was served.
There was no admission charge, although there were small fees for some of the activities, including the dances and concerts held on Friday and Saturday nights.
Prices were kept low, just enough to cover the expenses, Scott recalled.
“No one made a dime off of The Place,” she remarked.
Adult volunteers managed the hangout. Part of their job was to make sure none of the teens were drinking or doing anything illegal, said Scott, and they kept a tight watch.
The age limit was set at 13 to 19, but exceptions were made for older East Central College students and younger children of any adult chaperones.
The Place opened at noon or 1 p.m. and stayed open until about 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends, Scott noted.
Early ECC Commons Area
The Place was already well established by the time East Central College began holding its first classes in September 1968. The fledgling junior college didn’t have a campus yet, so classes were held in the Union City Auditorium, a short walk from The Place.
That made it an ideal hangout for ECC students before, after and in between classes, recalled Ed Pruneau, The Missourian’s managing editor who was then an ECC student and frequent Place customer.
Pruneau, who served on the ECC Student Council entertainment committee, recalls organizing movie showings at The Place. As best as he can recall, “The Guns of Navarone” was the first showing.
He and friends also used to play cards there and were known to get Spades tournaments going.
When ECC moved to its campus down Highway 50 in the early ’70s, naturally the ECC attendance at The Place dropped. A few years later, no one is exactly sure when, The Place closed its doors for the last time.
It was good while it lasted, said Scott.
“It’s a shame we can’t go back to that,” she remarked.