Service Center - USO
Compiled by Mary
The construction of a World War II United States
Service Organization (U. S. O.) building by the City of Bay City and our
Federal government for a recreation center for soldiers, defense workers
and the local citizenry is a story of a group of civic leaders who met
countless times negotiating with public officials on the national level.
The city officials wanted to construct a permanent building to last for
many years; the government was planning to construct a temporary
building for the duration of the war. The determination of city
officials exemplifies Calvin Coolidge’s remarks on the meaning of
“Persistence.”…”Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The
slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the
human race.” The persistence paid off and
, obtained a permanent, brick building which is situated on Block 190,
Lots 6-12 of the original townsite. The well-constructed building has
survived the years and is one of the most active places for meetings for
all citizens today, 1998, in
In the fall of 1941, President Roosevelt approved
contracts for constructing sixteen recreational buildings, at a total
cost of $1,003,055, at various locations in the states of
. Each building was scheduled for completion by Christmas of that year.
Five of those buildings were to be built in this
, Palacios, Port Lavaca, Wharton and El Campo. Of those five U. S. O.
buildings constructed in 1941, only one remains today and it is the BAY
CITY U. S. O. building now known as the “
In August of 1940, the War Department announced that
the federal government had leased
, for use by Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft units for at least one year.
Between 8,000 and 9,000 men would be stationed at the site for a year of
Ten National Guard Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft
regiments were called into service and five of those were scheduled to
. None of the five were from
. Three regiments (
) arrived at
between September 23 and
September 26, 1940
. By October 1940, there were 2,000 civilian workers getting the camp
ready to handle 10,000 soldiers before
January 1, 1941.
A Coordinating Council was formed in January 1941 by the City Council of
Bay City to study and initiate a community center for recreation and
community affairs. Richard Gusman was appointed chairman of the body.
Early in March 1941, E. O. Taulbee, President of Bay City Chamber of
Commerce, Richard Gusman, and Bernhaart Dahlberg met with the Bay City
Council with their report. As a result of that meeting, arrangements
were made with the Federal Works Agency for a first class building, and
a block of land (Block 190) which was obtained with a ten-year lease
from the Abel H. Pierce Estate. Before plans could be finalized, the
national U. S. O. was formed and it received congressional approval for
its plan to permit the army, navy and air force to build recreational
buildings for servicemen with the U.S.O. taking care of operational
costs after construction.
was one of those cities named due to its proximity to
Heading the U.S.O. organization was Thomas H. Dewey. The six agencies
that were part of this cooperative move included the Y. M. C. A., the
National Catholic Community Service, the Salvation Army, the Jewish
Welfare Board, and the National Travelers’ Aid Association.
E. O. Taulbee was appointed the Congressional Chairman of the Ninth
District, composed of fifteen counties, of the United States Service
Organization to raise funds for the U.S.O. program for the men in the
military. The funds were to be used to staff recreation centers in
various towns, including
. By July,
had exceeded its quota and by September, at the conclusion of the drive,
the Nation had raised over $8,000,000.
The Coordinating Council continued to meet during the summer of 1941 and
in September of that year, Chairman Richard Gusman gave full details of
the proposed plans for building a
with federal aid. According to the Chairman’s report, three plans were
considered. The first plan stated that the Federal government would give
$60,000 for a temporary structure; $52,000 of this money would go for
the building and $8,000 for the furnishings. The City of
would furnish the land. The building would be owned by the Federal
government and it would have full right to lease the building to
whomever it saw fit for operation purposes. At the end of the national
emergency, the government would have the full right of disposal.
The second plan called for an $80,000 fund; $68,000 would be for
construction and $12,000 for furnishings. Under this plan, the City of
would furnish $20,000 and the government $60,000 and the land would be
furnished by the City.
The third plan called for a permanent-type building with brick
siding, and this was the plan Richard Gusman and the coordinating
council insisted on having.
In October a contract was let to Thomas Bate and Son, Houston, at
a scheduled cost of $69,833, for a Type A building, with Lt. J. S.
, to handle the supervision. The Type A building would be frame
construction roughly in the shape of a letter H, 161 feet long and 89
feet wide. The social hall, dance floor and auditorium was to be 48 feet
by 7 feet and would include a stage for the presentation of motion
pictures and stage shows. Other features of the building included a
spacious lounge at the entrance, three club rooms, a kitchen, soda
fountain and refreshment bar, a dark room for amateur photographers and
shower, locker and rest rooms.
The coordinating council continued to meet with government
officials to convince them to build the permanent-type building and
finally, on October 31, the contractor received a telephone call from
army officials to go to Fort Sam Houston for a conference. At that time
the army engineers decided to build a permanent-type building. They
would draw up complete new plans, specifications and blue prints and
select the color of brick to be used.
As a result, the construction started on
November 11, 1941
, on the brick-veneer Type A building to be erected as a permanent-type
building. The War Department selected buff-colored brick costing in the
neighborhood of $30 per thousand. It was estimated that a total of some
$94,000.00 of brick, both face and common, were used in the structure.
The Bay City Gas Board gave $8,200.00 for the bricks, $3,555.90 for the
tennis courts, $361.00 for fans, and $390.00 for cots, blankets,
pillows, and cost of drainage.
The headlines in the
November 13, 1941
, issue of The Daily Tribune read:
FINAL PLANS FOR $96,000
will have a $96,000 brick veneer recreation center for
soldiers and civilians, R. C. Gusman, chairman of the Coordinating
Council, announced definitely this morning. This will be the entire cost
of the building including the construction and the furnishings.
Actions by the directors of the Bay City Gas Company in voting
unanimously to put up $8,200 made it possible to construct a permanent
brick veneer building. The directors of the Gas Company include V. L.
LeTulle, J. C. Lewis and Mayor S. E. Doughtie. Construction started
today on the building which, according to Mr. Gusman will be the only
one of its kind in the War Department’s Zone #8 Area, with headquarters
at Fort Sam Houston.
The building will include three large clubrooms, two offices,
kitchen, refreshment bar, showers, lockers, check rooms, power room,
garage, storage rooms, stage, 48x54 and social room 48x72. The center
will have steam heat procured by using an automatic gas heating system
and will have a large fan room, together with outlets for an
The Y.M.C.A. became the operating agency for the Bay City U.S.O.
E. D. Frederick, representative of the Army and Navy Y.M.C.A.,
arrived in January 1941 to take over operation of the U.S.O. building
and club. In January of 1942, the furniture arrived and that same
furniture is still in use today. A secretary was hired in January 1942.
The local defense recreation committee was responsible for the
dedication program and ceremonies. Plans for the ceremonies gave equal
recognition to the local community, the Federal government and the
operating agency. The date for opening was
February 17, 1942
By February 1, the building was completed and the furniture in
place. The City of
was ready to open the doors and dedicate the building with a gala
February 17, 1942
. The arrangement committee realized in planning that there had been no
provision for a piano in the furnishings. Immediately, a piano drive
began and the daily newspaper reported each day on the piano fund. The
grand piano was reported to cost $2,200; however, the committee was able
to purchase it for $350. The amount was raised by the dedication date.
Soldiers, people from far and near, and townspeople came to the
opening to see this new beautiful building that they had been reading
about day by day in the local newspaper. Appearing on the dedication
program were citizens by the name of Tom Hale, co-chairman of the
coordinating council; First Presbyterian minister, Ernest Deutsch; First
Baptist minister, Paul Davis; First Christian minister, Rollo Rilling;
and First Methodist minister, Marvin Vance who gave the Dedicatory
Speech. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts participated as well as the Bay City
Choral Club and the High School Band.
A February 1943 clipping found in the Museum Archives Scrapbook
summed up the first year of activities for the new U.S.O. – “Now one
year old!” A Board of Management had been appointed to work along with
the Y.M.C.A. representative. They were Pat Thompson, P. R. Hamill, Roy
G. Wertz, Paris Smith, Lee Anderson, Harry Mosely, Bert Steves, Rollo L.
Rilling, J. C. Lewis and Richard Gusman. There was an active Women’s
Auxiliary made up of many women in the community. There was also a Girls
Service Organization composed of girls at least sixteen years of age and
older who participated in activities at the Bay City U.S.O. and at
Some outstanding activities sponsored during that
first year were (1) The Victory Book Campaign, (2) the Community Victory
Sing, (3) Softball leagues, (4) furnishing of fourteen day rooms at
, (5) organization of Girls Service Organization in
To give some idea of the importance of the volunteer help, records
showed that 11,289 civilians served as leaders and program assistants
giving 44,308 hours. Program activities at the Bay City U.S.O. were
attended by 150,230 servicemen and 222,509 civilians. During that first
year the building was operated under the supervision of E. D. Frederick,
director, and Miss Jean Brooker, assistant director representing the
Army-Navy Department of the Young Men’s Christian Association.
The building continued to operate under the auspices
of the U.S.O. until 1945 and was active throughout the war years.
Official word was received in 1945 that the
and equipment would be disposed of as surplus property between January
1, and April 1946. After government aid was withdrawn, the local
operation of the building was first carried out by Richard and Florence
Gusman and later by the Community Chest. The Bay City Gas Company
provided $12,000 with which to purchase a quick-claim deed and free
title to the building including the furniture. Thus the building finally
belonged to the citizens of
By 1946, the ten-year land lease from the A. H.
Pierce Estate had expired. On
January 31, 1946, the heirs of A. H. Pierce officially deeded
the property to the Bay City Post #11 of the American Legion for “use as
service center for the American Legion and returning veterans, and as a
meeting place for Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and other community projects.
The building shall not be used for commercial purposes…”
The building became known as the “Bay
Center.” The City of
in turn leased the building from the American Legion under terms of a
fifty-year lease, and that lease was renewed in 1982 for ninety-nine
years. The city assumed maintenance and operation of the Center and has
operated it for these fifty-seven years. Periodically new roofs have
replaced the old ones and a constant review of maintenance has been
maintained throughout the years. In recent years the
has undergone major renovation always retaining its historic integrity.
Along with the general upkeep, the floors have had new carpet installed
and central air conditioning has been installed throughout the building.
has truly been a center of service for the multitude of clubs and
organizations that meet on a weekly and monthly schedule. It is a
meeting place for young and old; a place for political rallies, city and
county elections. The 1997 summary of activities shows 1,422 meetings
with 680 different groups participating. The Social Security
representatives and Beltone meet once a week in the building. Other than
the 46 clubs and organizations that meet on a regular basis there are
special events such as golden wedding celebrations; birthday parties,
banquets, school dances, church events, Rice Festival activities and
pancake suppers. During 1997, 32 meetings were held by committee and
planning groups and there were 52 classes and study groups. The
is just as busy today and brings in as many people as it did that first
year after its opening day on
February 17, 1942
. There is still no charge for use of the building to comply with the
original agreement. Thanks are given to long-time director, Ethel Gusman
a retired schoolteacher, and her faithful assistant, Joe DeLoach, Sr.,
who care for the building and supervise all of the activities under the
supervision of the City of