Wild grass and other weeds grow where once there was lawn. The giant sandy playground is strewn with broken glass and litter. Thieves have cut down and removed two aluminum light poles, and transients have stolen the fabric from a toy covered wagon.

But times are a-changin' at the Nettie Gregory Center, at 742 W. South Temple, thanks to a group of volunteers and community groups, who raked leaves, picked up trash and pruned trees Saturday afternoon.Their efforts mark only the beginning of what organizers hope will be a major face lift of the center, one of the west side's most humble yet historic places, which has lain almost dormant for the past 18 months.

Built in the early 1960s, the center was named for Nettie Gregory, the wife of black community activist William Gregory. It was an outlet for minority children, who, because of the color of their skin, could not enter other clubs, said Bernice Benns, a board member of the Salt Lake chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Over the years, the center has been utilized for socials, weddings, plays, community meetings and, most recently, an alternative school.

When the alternative school was merged with the school district in June 1989, the center became almost deserted, the upstairs being used only as offices for the NAACP.

But the NAACP and other community groups decided the building and grounds, about an acre, should be put back into service.

"It's just such an asset to this area," said state Rep. Joanne Milner, R-Salt Lake, who helped organize the clean-up. "Young people around here are looking for activities."

Benns said she would also like to see the center used to tutor minority teenagers in math and science. "That's where we score so low in the schools," she said.

Though not likely to become a day-care facility, the center may be used as a place where jobless parents can drop off their children for an hour or two while seeking employment. And Benns also has visions of some type of "adopt-a-grandparent" program in which disadvantaged children would be paired with senior citizens.

"That extended family idea is just gone now. That relationship with older people is really important for kids."

So far, organizers of the renovation have solicited $15,000 from the Salt Lake Office of Community Development, money that will barely cover the cost of installing a chain-link fence around the property. Other funds as well as labor are being sought to install sod and a sprinkling system, to repair and replace broken playground equipment and to renovate a horseshoe court.

Contributions can be sent to the Nettie Gregory Planning Committee, 742 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84104.