U.S.O. Recreation Center, First Avenue between Lacey & Cushman Streets, Fairbanks, Fairbanks North Star Borough, AK
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First Avenue between Lacey & Cushman Streets, Fairbanks, AK
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Documentation compiled after 1933.
Survey number HABS AK-49
Building/structure dates: 1942 initial construction
Building/structure dates: 1945 subsequent work
Building/structure dates: 1963 subsequent work
Significance: The United Services Organization or USO as it is better known began operation of a recreation center in Fairbanks, Alaska in May 1942. The Army Corps of Engineers in Alaska was in competition with other areas to see which could finish the first federally owned building for a USO club. A victory in this race for Alaska engineers would require construction during the sub-arctic winter. Resident engineer Edward Tracey developed a plan to accomplish this; pouring heated concrete and then keeping the forms heated another 48 to 72 hours. Once the concrete foundation was ready the wood frame one story building could be erected. An extremely cold January 1942 forced cancellation of concrete work. A USO club in Fayetteville, North Carolina (Ft. Bragg) would be finished in April ahead of the Fairbanks center. The need for a recreation center for off duty military from Ladd Field was recognized even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. A well known Alaskan entrepreneur Austin "Cap" Lathrop in November 1941, purchased a riverfront lot on 1st Avenue near Noble Street for a military recreation site. Lathrop resold the lot at half price to the city for transfer to the military. The property was formally deeded to the military on January 12, 1942 and construction began immediately. Following the weather delays the building which comprised a main unit, 28' x 97' and a 25' x 35' wing of wood frame construction on a concrete foundation with a partial basement to house a canteen was ready for use in May 1942. The official dedication was held over the Memorial Day weekend. In the main hall was a dance room and reception area and in the wing were rooms for reading, writing and meetings. A second identical wing was built in 1945. Additional space for dances and social activities was provided by the second wing. The Fairbanks USO functioned like other USOs with the exception of special programs and use because of the sub-arctic weather. It was a convenient spot to retreat from the cold and to purchase in the canteen a less expensive snack. This USO club unlike many others did not close after World War II or more recent wars. The center changed with the changing military environment serving financially and socially stressed dependents in the Cold War era and responding to the needs of single servicemen coming to Fairbanks from remote Nike sites. Over the years there were very few modifications to the USO building. The basement was completed to serve as a dormitory for men from remote sites. A stone face was added to the front in 1963. The canteen was moved from the basement to the 1945 constructed wing. Otherwise the building was nearly the same in 1980 as it was in 1945. The USO when it closed in 1983 to make room for a riverfront project was a well preserved World War II center.
Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress)
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