Groups restoring former WWII-era African-American officers club at Fort Huachuca
Friday, May 11, 2018
SIERRA VISTA – When the U.S. Army built the Mountain View Officers Club in Fort Huachuca, it was supposed to be temporary.
More than 70 years later, the community has tried to ensure it will stand for decades to come. Preservationists call it one of the “most significant examples of a World War II-era military service club” for African-American officers in the U.S., according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Army used the facility on and off for years after the war, but more than a decade ago, officials decided they no longer had a use for it. Its fate: demolition.
State officials, historic preservationists and community members rallied to save it.
They recently received a half-million dollar grant to continue their efforts to restore the building.
The building was constructed in 1942 to provide a recreational area for the African-American Buffalo Soldiers training on base.
“If you were officers … you could be coming here after work for a drink and some comradery with your colleagues, blowing off a little steam, talking about your soldiers,” U.S. Army Garrison spokeswoman Officer Tonja Linton said. “Or you could be here for a unit function.”
Multiple performers performed in the ballroom, and the club also hosted art shows.
According to the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, 14,000 black soldiers lived at Fort Huachuca. The military had begun a large-scale building effort at the fort to house the “all black” infantry divisions, and the Army built “barracks, hospitals, maintenance structures, offices, warehouses and recreational facilities, all of which were segregated,” according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“The primary demographic that trained here during the World War II period, they were black soldiers,” Linton said.
Even though the club was a place for black officers to socialize, the officers viewed the segregated facility with contempt.
“The black officers really weren’t happy about having a separate club,” Linton said. “They wanted one club … all officers at the same club.”
After the war, Fort Huachuca became inactive, and Sierra Vista’s population significantly decreased. The club was last in service about 20 years ago.
“It’s been empty for years and years now,” Linton said. “We, the Army, no longer have a real use for it.”
Most buildings from the time period have been demolished.
“There’s not a lot of World War II infrastructure left,” Linton said. “By design, it was meant to be temporary.”
The Lakeside Officers Club, reserved for whites, no longer exists.
Linton said only two black officers clubs in the U.S. remain standing – Mountain View and Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
Mountain View was deemed a historic preservation site in 2013, which was critical to preventing the Army from demolishing it.
Now Arizona State Parks is working to repurpose the building into a restaurant and recreational facility while maintaining the building’s historic nature.
“We realized that any vision for preservation of this property needed to recognize that the property needed to have some sort of economic development role in the community,” said Kathryn Leonard, Arizona State Parks historic preservation officer.
Leonard said it is a fine balance between developing a building that is up to current code and keeping the historic integrity of the structure.
The National Parks Service grant that Arizona State Parks received in April will allow officials to make essential structural changes to the club. Once they do that, Leonard said she hopes a developer will take on the project and construct the new facility.
The process was not easy. Stakeholders, including the Arizona Preservation Foundation and the Southwest Association of Buffalo Soldiers, spent years trying to save the building, which has been vacant since 1998.
“So what we’re seeing today is exactly what we love to see in preservation, where the process works,” Leonard said.
Many partners, including Army representatives, said they are excited about the end result.
“We work hard and we play hard here in the Army, so we’re all about having prime recreational facilities on the instillation,” Linton said. “We have a lot of families and soldiers here, and they would certainly appreciate that.”
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