When the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers faced off for the first time in October 1968, it was for a preseason exhibition game in the middle of a modest central Mesa neighborhood, in a building already well-loved by hundreds of young people in the community.
Now, after a four-year renovation project, the Inter-stake Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is back “online,” poised for what local Church leaders hope will be a resurgence of the building’s usefulness to both the church and the community.
The community is invited to a free open house on Oct. 19, to see the 53,000 square-foot multi-purpose facility, which includes a 17,720 square-foot gymnasium with three basketball courts and four volleyball courts, an auditorium with space for more than 500 guests, seven meeting rooms and a food-serving area. The church-owned Ellsworth Park adjacent to the building offers a ramada, two softball fields and areas for soccer games and other outdoor activities.
The Inter-stake Center started in the 1950s as a dream — one held by three Mesa brothers, Leo, Larence and Donald Ellsworth and other local church leaders — to have a building suitable for young men and women to play basketball and other sports.
Donald, a Church’s leader at the time, wrote, “… the only place they could play [basketball] was on an unlighted cement platform in the back of one of the chapels.”
Ultimately, with significant contributions from the Ellsworth brothers’ construction company, a 12.5-acre site, three blocks east of the Mesa Temple, was purchased and construction on the building was completed in 1955.
Mesa resident Duane Lesueur was 14 at the time.
“All youth and young men who liked to play basketball and compete in the all-church tournament loved to play on the main court. “… It had glass backboards, a new thing that had just started. Very few facilities had this,” he said. “It was beyond all our dreams.”
Although an estimated 23,000 basketball, 20,000 softball and 33,600 volleyball games have been played there over the course of its 58-year history, early on it became apparent that its usefulness as a sports center was only part of the picture.
For many years, it was the only place large enough to hold conferences, and was also was used for dance festivals, plays and single-adult activities. For several years, it housed a humanitarian service center, where quilts and other items were made as part of the church’s humanitarian service efforts.
The building became an important community asset as well, used by many other community organizations, including Special Olympics and Mesa Public Schools.The Tour de Phoenix bicycle race used it as their host site for the race for several years.
The community’s 2012 Project Santa event was held there, and even the Harlem Globetrotters played on the Inter-stake Center court in the mid-1970s.
Over the years, the facility fell into disrepair. In 2009, after the city decided not to renew its lease on the adjacent ball fields, discussions began and the decision was made to renovate.
The gymnasium, which can seat about 2,500 people, has a new air-conditioning system, a new wood floor, and better sound system. Rooms, once used for storage, have new carpet, paint and are now suitable for meetings, receptions and activities.
The newly-remodeled center will predominantly host conferences, sports tournaments and youth activities.
“We will make it available quite a bit of the time for community events, particularly for nonprofit groups, Scout groups and other denominations,” Jones said.
A website (interstakecenter.org) has been set up with an online form to request a building reservation.
“We want to be good neighbors, to bridge the gap between the church and the community,” Jones said. “We are not looking to proselytize, but to share this facility and make it available to the community, many who grew up participating in activities there.”
The Inter-stake Center is located at 830 E. 2nd Ave. in Mesa (2nd Avenue and Horne). A free, public open house is scheduled for 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Oct.19. For information, visit interstake.org.
What: Inter-stake Center Open House
When: Saturday, Oct. 19; 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: 830 E. 2nd Ave, Mesa (2nd Avenue and Horne)