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City gets parks board blessing to rename Metz Recreation Center

Friday, June 26, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Austin is now one step closer to officially changing the name of the Metz Recreation Center at 2407 Canterbury St. to the Rodolfo “Rudy” Mendez Recreation Center.

On June 24, the Parks and Recreation Board unanimously recommended that City Council change the name of the East Austin recreation center – which is currently named after a Confederate army captain– to honor Rudy Mendez, a native Austinite who used dance to develop outreach programs aimed at youth from marginalized communities.

“He sounds like a wonderful person and very well-deserving,” Chair Dawn Lewis said.

Lucas Massie, assistant director with the Parks and Recreation Department, told the board that during the community engagement process, 97 percent of the responses were in favor of the proposed name for the center. There were a total of 336 responses from the public between Feb. 29 and March 3.

Several community members called in to the parks board meeting to offer their support for the name change. Dyana Limon-Mercado, who is Mendez’s great-niece, offered her support, saying his legacy deserved to be commemorated after his 40 years of giving back to the community through dance programming and service at the recreation center.

Mendez founded the Ballet East Dance Company in 1978 to provide a platform for young choreographers and dancers in East Austin. In 1989, he developed the nationally recognized citywide program Dare to Dance. In order to ensure that these programs were available, Melissa Villarreal, the executive artistic director of the Ballet East Dance Company, said she remembers him at the rec center searching for funding sources and writing grants to allow him to continue offering these programs. “He did all this to help break barriers … so we would not end up as statistics,” she said.

In addition to founding well-regarded dance companies in Austin, Mendez worked for the Parks and Recreation Department as a program specialist at Metz Recreation Center from 1978-2000.

The undertaking to rename the recreation center is the result of a 2018 Equity Office report that identified a list of city-owned monuments with names tied to the Confederacy. The Metz Recreation Center made the list of assets slated for initial review. Hamilton M. Metz, after whom the center is currently named, was a firefighter in Austin before becoming captain of Company E of the 33rd Texas Cavalry during the Civil War.

City Council initiated the process of renaming the center in December 2019.

Massie clarified that the name change will only apply to the recreation center and not any of the ancillary facilities, including Metz Pool. Metz Elementary will be closed; as an AISD property, the city was unable to facilitate a name change.

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