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.
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 USO buildings constructed in 1941, only one remains today and it is the Bay City USO building now known as the "Bay City Service Center."
In early March 1941, E.O. Taulbee, President of the Bay City Chamber of Commerce, Richard Gusman and Bernhaart Dahlberg met with the Bay City Council and as a result of that meeting arrangements were made with the Federal Works Agency for a first class building, and a block of land which was obtained with a ten year lease from the Abel H. Pierce Estate.
Construction started on November 11, 1941 on the brick-veneer Type A building. It was estimated that a total of some $94,000 of brick, both face and common, were used in the structure. The Bay City Gas Board gave $8,200 for the bricks, $3,555 for the tennis courts, $361 for fans and $390 for cots, blankets, pillows and cost of drainage.
In January of 1942, the furniture arrived and that same furniture is still in use today. The committee realized in planning that there had been no provision for a piano in the furnishings. A piano drive began and the newspaper reported each day.
The grand piano was reported to cost $2,200; however, the committee was able to purchase it for $350.
The building continued to operate under the auspices of the USO until 1945 and was active throughout the war years. Official word was received in 1945 that the USO 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 After government aid was withdrawn, the local operation of the building was first carried out by Richard and Florence Gusman and later by the Community Chest.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 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. Special events such as golden wedding celebrations, birthday parties, banquets, school dances, church events, Rice Festival activities, and pancake suppers still take place at the Bay City Service Center.
There is still no charges for the use of the building to comply with the original agreement.
When you think of the Bay City Service Center, you can't help but think of Ms. Ethel Gusman, retired schoolteacher, who cared for the building and supervised all activities under the supervision of the City of Bay City.
Compiled by Mary Belle Ingram
April 7, 2005