Matagorda County Historical Marker Narrative

Bay City Service Center - USO

2105 Avenue M                 28°58’58.39”N        95°57’40.38”W
 

 




Marker inscription typed by Faye Cunningham


BAY CITY U.S.O. BUILDING

     ERECTED IN 1941 ON LAND LOANED BY THE PIERCE ESTATE TO SERVE BOTH LOCAL CITIZENS AND WORLD WAR II MILITARY PERSONNEL AT CAMP HULEN IN NEARBY PALACIOS, THIS IS ONE OF 16 UNITED SERVICE ORGANIZATION (U.S.O.) FACILITIES BUILT THAT YEAR IN TEXAS, ARIZONA AND OKLAHOMA. A COORDINATING COUNCIL WAS FORMED THAT YEAR TO CREATE A COMMUNITY CENTER. BAY CITY CITIZENS AND BUSINESSES GENEROUSLY CONTRIBUTED TO THE U.S.O. PROJECT, DEDICATED IN 1942. THE CENTER HOSTED GROUPS SUCH AS THE WOMEN’S AUXILIARY AND GIRLS SERVICE ORGANIZATION. RECORDS SHOWED 11,289 CIVILIANS SERVED AS LEADERS AND PROGRAM ASSISTANTS; PROGRAMS WERE ATTENDED BY 150,230 SERVICE PERSONNEL AND 222,509 CIVILIANS.
     THE FACILITY WAS OPERATED BY THE Y.M.C.A. AND A LOCAL COMMITTEE UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE U.S.O., WHICH TERMINATED ITS OPERATIONS IN 1945. THE PROPERTY ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE BLOCK AND THE BUILDING WERE DEEDED TO BAY CITY POST NO. 11. THE AMERICAN LEGION THAT YEAR POST 11 INITIATED LONG-TERM LEASES WITH THE CITY OF BAY CITY TO MAINTAIN THE BUILDING AND CONTINUE IT OPERATION AS A COMMUNITY CENTER. OF THE FIVE GULF COAST U.S.O. BUILDINGS CONSTRUCTED EARLY IN THE WAR, THIS IS THE ONLY ONE LEFT STANDING. A MEETING PLACE AND CITY CENTER, THE BUILDING CONTINUES TO BE AN ACTIVE AND VITAL PART OF THE COMMUNITY.
     CONSTRUCTED ACCORDING TO STANDARDIZED PLANS AND FINISHED IN A BRICK VENEER THROUGH THE GENEROSITY OF THE BAY CITY GAS COMPANY. THE BUFF BRICK BUILDING FEATURES A U-PLAN WING HOUSING MEETING ROOMS, OFFICES, A REFRESHMENT AREA, LOCKER ROOM, DARKROOM AND A LARGE AUDITORIUM THE BUILDING REFLECTS THE INFLUENCES OF THE INTERNATIONAL STYLE WITH BANDED WINDOWS, INDUSTRIAL SASH, CANTILEVERED OVERHANGS AND A FLAT ROOF OF ARTICULATED MASSING.

RECORDED TEXAS HISTORIC LANDMARK 1999
 



 


Bay City Service Center - USO
Compiled by Mary Belle Ingram

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 Bay City , Texas , 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 Bay City , Texas .

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 Arizona , Oklahoma and Texas . Each building was scheduled for completion by Christmas of that year.

Five of those buildings were to be built in this Gulf Coast area: Bay City , 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 “ Bay City Service Center .”

In August of 1940, the War Department announced that the federal government had leased Camp Hulen in Palacios , Texas , 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 training.

Ten National Guard Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft regiments were called into service and five of those were scheduled to train at Camp Hulen . None of the five were from Texas . Three regiments ( Missouri , Massachusetts and New Hampshire ) arrived at Camp Hulen 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. Bay City was one of those cities named due to its proximity to Camp Hulen .

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 Bay City . By July, Bay City 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 U.S.O. Center 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 Bay City 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 Bay City 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. Coreoran, Camp Hulen , 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 RECREATION CENTER FOR BAY CITY !


Bay City
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 inter-communication system.

 

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 Bay City was ready to open the doors and dedicate the building with a gala celebration on 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 Camp Hulen .

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 Camp Hulen , (5) organization of Girls Service Organization in West Columbia and Rosenberg .

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 U.S.O. Building 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 Bay City .

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 City Service Center.” The City of Bay City 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 Service Center 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.

The Bay City Service Center 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 Service Center 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 Bay City .
 



 


 

 

Copyright 2005 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved

Created
Apr. 7, 2005
Updated
Jun. 20, 2010
   

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