USO Building History

historical photo of prom held at USO

Early Days

The Bay City United Service Organizations (USO) Building was owned for many years by the heirs of prominent Matagorda County rancher and businessman Abel H. "Shanghai" Pierce (1900).

Sited on four lots at the northwest corner of Block 190, the Bay City USO Building occupies the majority of its site and was, upon completion in 1942, an imposing building within the residential setting of the area. Oaks planted on the west and north elevations now shade a good portion of the building blending into the mixed residential an commercial character of the immediate area.

Pre-World War II

In January 1941, as pre-World War II mobilization placed nearby Camp Hulen in Palacios in Federal service and 10,000 out-of-state soldiers and 2,000 civilian workers were stationed there, the City Council of Bay City appointed a Coordinating Council to study and initiate the construction of a community center. City leaders were aware of the impending recreational needs of the many soldiers stationed at Camp Hulen and other regional training facilities. The City also recognized the recreational needs of its civilian population and sought Federal assistance in building what would become a community recreation center.

The Coordinating Council, with Richard C. Gusman (1904 to 1984; later Bay City’s mayor) as chairman, working closely with other Coordinating Council members including E.O. Taulbee and the City Council of Bay City, interested the Federal Works Agency (FWA) in building a recreation center, and the Pierce Estate in leasing the vacant Block 190 for that purpose. However, as the inevitability of war became clearer to government officials, the United Service Organizations (USO) was formed, and before plans for the new Bay City recreation center were finalized with the FWA, the United States Congress approved a national plan developed by the USO to allow Army and Navy to build recreational centers for their servicemen and permit the USO to handle operational costs after construction.

Because of its proximity to Camp Hulen, Bay City was approved for a USO center. The Bay City building was one of 273 new construction projects or renovations undertaken under the Community Facilities Act. Fifteen were built on the Gulf Coast.

Construction Planning

The USO was deemed necessary to meet the recreational needs of thousands of servicemen stationed far from home. Although the Bay City facility’s primary purpose was to serve men stationed at Camp Hulen in Palacios and at Foster Field near Victoria, Texas, it served the entire community through its many social events.

The first plan called for $60,000 to be given by the Federal government for a temporary (wood) building. Of this amount, $52,000 would be for the building itself and $8,000 was earmarked for furnishings. The City of Bay City would provide the land. The third plan called for a permanent type of building, to be erected with brick veneer, at a cost of $115,000. The Federal government would provide the land.

The Bay City Gas Company, which was owned and operated by the City, provided $8,220 for the bricks (estimated $30 per thousand, with about 94,000 bricks used), $3,555.90 for the tennis courts, $361 for fans, $944.96 for cots and bedding, and $390 for site drainage improvements. The City of Bay City provided the land, acquired under lease from the A.H. Pierce Estate.

Building Construction

Construction began November 11, 1941, with Thomas Bate and Son of Houston as the contractors. The cost to erect the building was $69,883. Bay City’s USO Building was described in the local papers as being a Type A [recreation] building of frame construction roughly in the shape of an H.

The furniture, which remains in use in the building, also was delivered in January 1942.

By February 1st, the building was finished and the furniture installed. A dedication ceremony and gala took place on February 17, 1942, planned by the Bay City Recreational Council, of which Tom Hale and Richard Gusman were co-chairman.

Landmark Designation & Renovations

In the 1998 application for Recorded Texas Historical Landmark designation, prepared by long-time Bay City resident Mary Belle Ingram, noted, the building brings in just as many people as it did in the first year.

The building was awarded a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark designation in 1999 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

The building has undergone major renovations since 2013. The inside of the building has been completely renovated.