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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Scouts ignite Fire Circle Scouts ignite Fire Circle (January 22, 2003)

Troop refurbishes local landmark

by Cheri Lucas

Troop 57 of the Stanford District of the Boy Scouts of America would make "Aunt Lucie" proud.

Always one of the most active troops in Palo Alto, the troop contributed more than 800 hours of community service from August to October 2002 to restore the historic Fire Circle at Lucie Stern Community Center.

Lucie Stern, a major benefactor of the Palo Alto area, committed to help children's organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America. Her generosity helped build the Community Theater on Middlefield Road, the Sea Scouts meeting center at the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor and Camp Oljato in the High Sierras.

Built in 1937, the Fire Circle has provided a meeting place for troops, the Stanford District, and the Pacific Skyline Council of the Boy Scouts of America. The Children's Theater performed at the circle as early as 1941, and over the years the Girl Scouts and religious groups have benefited from its use as well.

Troop 57, founded in 1933, has utilized the Fire Circle regularly for meetings and Court of Honor and Eagle Court of Honor ceremonies. The troop is one of the very few parent-sponsored troops in the United States to have survived for 65 years.

"Everyone felt good about the restoration. Although it turned into a very large project, everyone involved was happy and positive," co-project manager Larry Christenson said.

Christenson, an Eagle Scout himself, is not only a senior scout advisor for Troop 57, but also the person instrumental in launching the restoration. Christenson was recommended enthusiastically in February 2002 to receive one of 20 awards that Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company grants to financial representatives exhibiting exceptional community service.

Christenson was given a $10,000 gift, which he gave to the Pacific Skyline Council to restore the Fire Circle.

Christenson then garnered support from Troop 57 parents, the city of Palo Alto, the council and numerous contractors. "Everyone involved wanted to be part of a restoration of a facility that has special meaning for Troop 57. There is pride in the (Fire Circle's) history. We wanted to pay something back to Lucie Stern and the community," Assistant Scoutmaster Eric Keller said.

The project marks the first time the circle has been restored. Since its construction, the circle and its surroundings have deteriorated. Tree roots pushed up the surface, rendering it unsafe. Electrical wiring rusted over time. Water seeping through gaps in the mortar caused damage underneath the area.

"Basically, it was similar to when you attempt to renovate your bathroom. A ways into the project, you realize you need to change the whole house. We discovered after we started working and digging how neglected and unsafe it had become," Christenson said.

Renovation of the Fire Circle had been discussed for six years, but no one in the Pacific Skyline Council had the time or money for such an endeavor. Also, no one knew exactly how much money it would take. In the end, the project stayed within a reasonable budget and, after dipping a bit into the Boy Scouts fund, cost about $13,000.

After Christenson and co-project manager John Cote hired contractors and gathered volunteers from Troop 57, construction began in mid-August 2002. "We worked almost every weekend for over two months until the Eagle Court of Honor on Oct. 27, 2002," Christenson said.

Each Saturday was divided into a morning and afternoon shift. Volunteers performed various tasks, from chipping mortar and breaking bricks to moving asphalt and re-designing electrical systems. "Six or seven tasks would be going on at the same time, and I thought, 'Wow! This is a lot of fun and is really going to work out,'" Christenson said. At the first meeting, more than 60 volunteers arrived to help. It took little effort during the restoration to draw volunteers each weekend.

"This was an enormously satisfying project that was successful on different levels," Keller said. "Both scouts and adults found a satisfaction in learning new skills that they had never done before."

One Eagle Scout suggested the addition of a flagpole. The new 25-foot pole is a modern and welcomed element to the Fire Circle. New night lighting adds atmosphere within the complex. "Along with the fire, the lighting really adds to the circle. You almost feel like you're in the woods," Christenson said.

The restored Fire Circle may attract other nonprofits and community for congregational use, but it is uncertain whether it will be opened up regularly to the public.

The Stanford District awards dinner, which recognizes Scout and adult leadership and contributions, will be held this Friday. A movie presentation on Troop 57's Fire Circle restoration project will be screened at the dinner.

"This is an important project and time for us. We've made it possible for future Scouts to enjoy the Fire Circle for perhaps another 50 years," Christenson said.

Troop 57 carries out other projects during the year, from Thanksgiving food drives to holiday wreath fundraising. Visit their Web site at for more information.

Cheri Lucas can be e-mailed at


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