Mineral County Correspondence – May 2017

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Hawthorne’s Restored 1942 USO Building

Historic buildings don’t always make the restoration list, but the USO Building in Hawthorne is one of only two left standing in the United States. With the original structure restored to incorporate some of today’s building standards, Mineral County saw fit to retain this valuable 1942 landmark from it’s memorable days when it was a jumping social hall. With WW II soldiers crowding in to meet young hostesses, one can only imagine those couples swinging to the big band tunes of the day. If these walls could talk, oh what stories this room would tell!

Over 400 USO “recreational building kits” were distributed throughout America during World War II, to provide the troops a safe place to find assistance, hang out to dance and have a free soda with locals from the fountain.  Hostesses were local ladies that came to assist the soldiers with writing letters home, provide someone to talk to or enjoy a dance or two. Even today, one can find USO facilities generally within large airports, but an auditorium style USO, such as the Hawthorne location, is a rarity, as most were converted to other uses or destroyed. In 2005, this facility became part of the National Registry of Historic Places. The other 1941-built USO building is the DeRidder Building in Louisiana, also on the registry.

As part of the Hawthorne USO building’s restoration, a photo book was created to preserve the beginning photos and show the transformation from condemned  building to convention hall. Flooring was detailed, as well as retaining the entry fireplace. It was all handled with great care so as not to compromise the integrity of the original framework within the building.

 

And then there were fundraising efforts to purchase a giant flag as the theater drop. Never giving in to the flavor of modern decor, this military, patriotic town raised money to fly a big flag to fly at at Veterans Park and another to hang up on the USO stage. With new lighting equipment installed, you may find the USO host happy to not only give you a tour, but also allow a photo op up on stage.

With newly installed, artistically-made sound panels running along the walls, you’ll enjoy seeing renditions of the old days, using actual black and white photos from days gone by. A large bar hutch sits on the back wall, taken from the officers lounge at the military base and relocated as an area time-piece, with backlit stained glass and carved corbels.

Stop by for a tour, enjoying the history and the grand room’s structure. Gaze at the journals of information, or look at the large petrified wood placed in the old fireplace. Rent the unique facility for groups, reunions, dances, or weddings by speaking with the curator on hand.  Check in advance for availability at VisitMineralCounty.com.

— Sheri Samson

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