Looking Back: Remembering Kats Korner in art

Remembering Kats Korner in art

Looking Back 0223

It may have looked like a scene from “American Graffiti” or “Bye Bye Birdie” with greasers sitting on the hoods of their ’57 Chevys, jeans rolled up at the ankles and perhaps a box of Lucky Strikes hidden in the sleeve of a tee shirt. Girls bounce around in poodle skirts and ponytails as the jukebox blasts the latest Buddy Holly and Everly Brothers tunes.

In Ocala during the 1950s and 1960s, such a scene would have been familiar at Kats Korner, the popular hangout for kids who were attending Ocala High School. Originally located on Osceola Avenue where the current utility offices are, Kats Korner was a tin building operated by the city’s recreation department and run by a student advisory board.

For the kids of Ocala High, Kats Korner was the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights. Pool tables, ping pong tables, a snack bar, jukebox and dance floor provided all the elements needed for a gathering place of youths. The memories piled up and folks in town reminisce to this day about their fun times at Kats Korner.

Among those with cherished memories is local artist Jan Williams, who drew inspiration from those memories and an old photo she saw in the Ocala Star-Banner that led to her rendering Kats Korner in a recent piece. It’s among a series of work she dubs “Ocala’s Hot Spots” that depicts popular places from her days as a teenager in Ocala, places such as The Chicken Ranch and The Big D Steer-In.

“There’s a lot of history that I’ve enjoyed that led me to want to paint and keep bringing it up today,” Williams said. “Now that we can post on Facebook and everyone gets to see it — you get compliments and you get memories of people that were there.”

At Kats Korner, the kids danced to music that was free on the jukebox while the pool and ping pong tables were always in use.

“It was so cool, and it was the only place we had to hang out,” Williams said. “I was married to Mark Yandle, who I lost a couple years ago, and someone told me recently that if the doors were open at Kats Korner Mark and Shirley Yandle were there dancing.”

Inside were the sounds of rock and roll, ping pong and breaking billiards balls, but outside may have been just as big a social gathering with boys hanging out and showing off their cars.

“My older brother, Ben, told me the parking lot was as crowded as inside Kats Korner because the guys were smoking their cigarettes — they weren’t supposed to be smoking.”

Youngsters not yet in high school may have wanted in Kats Korner, but they weren’t allowed; nor were those who had already moved beyond high school. On hand were always adult chaperones to make sure only high schoolers entered and that things stayed tame.

On the west side of town, a youth center existed for students of the blacks-only Howard High School as this was during the days of racial segregation. In the late 1960s as the schools were desegregated, the two youth centers were combined at a different location, but it never gained popularity and eventually vanished altogether.

“The music was loud, and it was a safe place,” Williams said. “Ocala’s been good to me — every time I get in the car, I have a memory. Every time I look to the left and to the right, I have a memory of Ocala.”

Thankfully for everyone, Williams’ memories are not just in her head, but also on the canvas for the public to enjoy and to inspire a little reminiscing as well. 

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