© 2016 by Newton Falls Preservation Foundation 

History of USO/Community Center 

A Brief History and Background on

Federal Works Agency Project No. Ohio 33-154-F

Better Known As

THE NEWTON FALLS U.S.O. CENTER

From its creation in 1941 and through 1945, well prior to the Newton Falls Community Center ever being used as our Village’s most prominent facility for many local gatherings and activities for adults and children, it was the site of America’s very first United Services Organization (U.S.O.) facility specifically designed and built to serve, not only our military men and women, but also civilian defense workers.

 

The Newton Falls U.S.O. Building, later renamed as the Community Center, was constructed as a single story structure with a partial basement.  According to Trumbull County Tax Records, it consists of approximately 10,800 square feet.  The building is located in the heart of the Village of Newton Falls Village at 52 East Quarry Street on a 1.32 acre lot.

 

The site for the center was selected in 1941 by Mayor Elmo Bailey of Newton Falls and Joseph Barnett, Federal Security Administration Regional Supervisor.

 

According to Municipal Deed #255805 (Vol. 449 Pg. 121), dated February 27, 1942: On November 4, 1941, the Council of the Village of Newton Falls, passed an ordinance, authorizing the sale of the real estate known “as being part of Lot No. 45 of said Village”.  Advertisement had been posted in a “general circulation newspaper” for five consecutive weeks, inviting sealed bids for this property.  The United States presented the highest bid at One Dollar ($1.00) and said bid was duly accepted and acknowledged by Mayor Bailey and Council President, Wayne Conklin.

 

The Newton Falls U.S.O. construction project was known as Federal Works Agency Project No. Ohio 33-154-F.  The W.B. Gibson Company, a contractor from Warren, Ohio, was chosen to do the actual construction.  Construction began in October 1941, prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  The building was completed in 90 days at a cost of approx. $65,860. On January 18, 1942, the U.S.O. building was dedicated in a ceremony that attracted over 500 enthusiastic residents who were greeted and addressed by a personal letter from First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. 

At the building’s  Dedication Ceremony, Newton Falls Mayor W. Elmo Bailey delivered the following Welcome Address:

“We are living today in a world filled with strange and astonishing events. These conditions come about because a few individuals have risen to power, men who can be classed as the hounds of death and destruction, who want to satisfy their lust and greed for power. One of the greatest preparedness programs in the history of our democracy is under way and this building was built to play a part in this program. While we rejoice that we today are dedicating it, in a sense we should not be too happy for if it were not necessary to build buildings such as these, it would not be necessary to send our boys to war to be shot down. We are all true-blooded Americans and are united in our desire to defend the democracy we hold dear. We here in Newton Falls want to fulfill our duties in this great defense effort so as to bring credit to ourselves, our community and our own United States”               (The Newton Falls Herald, front page, January 23, 1942)

Some of the information highlighted in the Dedication Ceremony Program includes:

  • Following a survey by the Regional Recreation Representative of the Federal Security Agency, the Field Recreation Representative began work in Newton Falls, Ohio June 23, 1941.

  • A Defense Public Works grant was allocated through Detroit and Washington in September 1941.

  • U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps of the Ravenna Ordnance Plant staked out the lot in the City Park given to the U.S. Government by the City about October 1, 1941.

  • W.H. Gibson Co. began its contract work October 9th and turned the completed building over to the Army on December 10, 1941.

  • The greater part of the equipment, furnished by the U.S. Government arrived and today, the United Service Organizations begin its maintenance and operation.

  • The local Defense Recreation Committee has worked diligently and faithfully along with the Mayor and City Officials toward a sound and permanent Recreational Program and will continue to assist the U.S.O in any way it is permitted to do so.

  • Our hearty thanks to “Uncle” Sam” for his interest in us and may each and every one of us do our share to play our part for him and this good free land of ours!

Miss Bertha Daniel served as Director of the Ravenna Defense Area and Head of the U.S.O. at Newton Falls, assisted by Vonda Brown, Y.M.C.A, U.S.O.

 

In very short order after its opening, thousands of wartime production workers poured into Newton Falls and surrounding areas to operate the massive munitions production facility at the nearby Ravenna Arsenal, also known as the Ravenna Ordnance Plant.  Illustrating Ohio's important contributions to winning World War II, from 1942 to 1945, workers at the Ravenna Arsenal produced more ordinance materials for the war effort than at any other plant in the United States.  The Ravenna Arsenal opened in 1942 and is one mile north/northwest of Newton Falls.  It was described as:

The complex that produced artillery and mortar shells in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.  It closed in 1972.  The arsenal was a major facility with 1,200 buildings.  It took 16,000 workers to build the complex and it employed up to 15,000 at its peak during World War II.  It drew workers from Akron to the west and from Warren to the east.

In World War II, the plant operated 12 production lines and built more than 36 million bombs and shells, 420 million other munitions and 571,000 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. More than 700 large bunkers were located on the complex to store explosives. 

It was constructed for the primary purpose of loading medium and major caliber artillery ammunition, bombe, mines, fuses and booster, primers, percussion elements, and the storage of finished ammunition and ammunition components.

 (The History of the Ravenna Arsenal by Ralph A. Pfingsten)

During this timeframe, there were also two other U.S.O. Clubs in Ravenna, Ohio but the closest U.S.O. facility to the Ravenna Ordinance Plant, was in Newton Falls.  Sadly, the other clubs in Ravenna are no longer standing.

 

Immediately after WWII ended, our servicemen came home and the munitions workers were no longer needed.  The large white frame U.S.O. building stood stark and desolate, seemingly of no longer use to anyone.  Then, in early 1946, the U.S. government offered to sell the building for $10,000, an amount well below its original cost.  Local residents organized a Community Chest and 60 percent of the money raised was allocated to the “Community Building,” as it was renamed. 

 

The Federal Works Agency (F.W.A.) requested the Newton Falls Village Council to make an offer for the building and to give a complete list of reasons for offering any sum of less than $10,000 as the purchase price.  It was understood that further negotiations would take place if the Village offer was unacceptable to the F.W.A.  Village Council voted to offer $5,000 for the building, payable over a period of 5 years and gave its reasons for the lower price.  This offer was not accepted by the F.W.A.

 

Then in July 1947, a special meeting of Village Council authorized Mayor Palmer to submit another bid for the purchase of the Community Center including the building, land, furnishings and equipment.  The new bid was for $10,000, payable in ten yearly installments of $1,000 each.  This bid was accepted by the F.W.A.

 

All annual installments were made and through Quit Claim Deed #492931 (Vol. 704 Pg. 49), dated June 26, 1956, the United States of America transferred all rights, title & interest in the “recreation facilities under Project No. Ohio 33-154-F” to the Village of Newton Falls.  The real estate transaction was completed December 27, 1957.  From that time on, the center became just what it is called today, the “Community Center,”

 

Our Newton Falls Community Center, originally a U.S.O. Center, is of enormous historical and local significance.  “It is one of very few material manifestations of its kind left that captures a critically important period in American history, the beginning of WWII and the colossal war support effort on the domestic home front.”  It was the very FIRST U.S.O. Center in the nation to be designed to support civil defense workers and was also the very FIRST in the nation to remain open and provide 24/7 service through its “Dawn Patrol” program.  In addition to this unique service, the Newton Falls U.S.O. Center also provided recreational opportunities, child care, crafts, indoor picnics, dances, photography and, of course, free coffee and donuts.

According to the 1941 U.S.O. financial report: “201 (clubs) are housed in buildings provided by the government in four standard types”.  Current number of known survivors: 14, as follows:

Type “A”: Jacksonville and Wilmington, N.C.; Bay City, Texas; Newton Falls, Ohio

Type “B”: DeRidder, Louisiana

Type “C": Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Type “D”: Battle Creek and Warren, Michigan; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Hawthorne,

                 Nevada; Jamestown, Rhode Island; Marfa, Texas; Alexandria and

                  Bowling Green, Virginia

 

This much-loved local landmark is ONE of only FOUR known original Type “A” U.S.O. buildings remaining in the United States.  It is the ONLY ONE of its kind surviving in the State of Ohio. 

 

It is extremely fortunate that most of the original U.S.O. lobby furniture remains today in the Newton Falls Community Center.  Other communities have been required to invest thousands of dollars in replicas for their facilities. 

 

For decades following its noble service as an U.S.O. Center, this unique facility operated as a valued Community Center for countess residents in need of quality public space for recreation, homecoming, teen dances, weddings, birthday parties, graduation celebrations, family reunions, and a wide range of activities for children, adults and seniors.

 

In December 2015, due to municipal budget constraints, the Community Center was closed by the Village of Newton Falls.  Those budget concerns still exist. As a result, the future of this historic U.S.O. Center has been cast into doubt and still remains uncertain. 

 

On October 25, 2017, the Newton Falls Community Center was listed on Preservation Ohio’s 2017 List of Ohio’s Most Endangered Historic Sites.

 

The Newton Falls Preservation Foundation is committed to preserving this much-loved local landmark and national treasure by saving it from potential demolition.  Our non-profit organization has submitted a comprehensive application for the Newton Falls Community Center to be added to the prestigious National Register of Historic Places.  This nomination is initially being reviewed by the Ohio History Connection.  When approved, the nomination will be forwarded to the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service for consideration to include it formally in the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Most longer term residents of Newton Falls are quite familiar with its Community Center and may be aware of the historical and cultural significance to our community.  This awareness comes, most likely, through personal experience with the Center at times throughout their lives.  However, many residents may be unaware of, or less familiar with, the important historical origins of this Community Center as a U.S.O. facility, the basic structure, layout and amenities of which remain largely unchanged from 1941 to the present day.  If so, the following more detailed information on the Background, Architecture, Construction and Uses of the Newton Falls U.S.O. facility may be very interesting and helpful to gain a greater appreciation for our Community Center and its historical significance to not only Newton Falls, but also our great country.

Background

In early February 1941 during the military and economic buildup that preceded American’s entry into World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the United Service Organization out of six charitable organizations: Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), National Jewish Welfare Board (NJWB), National Catholic Community Service (NCCS), Salvation Army, and National Travelers Aid Association.  They pooled their military outreach operations to form the new agency, which was created to address welfare and recreation issues created by the rapid expansion as well as to lift troop morale and enhance public support for the massive war effort.

 

The U.S.O. was a public-private partnership in which the national organizations provided trained leadership and local communities contributed volunteers and operating funds.  The federal government underwrote the cost of building or renovating and furnishing the facilities. The U.S.O. was one of the largest and most important of the voluntary organizations that supported the men and women of the Armed Forces, the domestic civilian defense and war support workers and their families. The U.S.O. Centers became a principle off-duty destination with dancing, recreation activities, and various forms of entertainment.  The U.S.O. provided, in many ways, the feeling of a “home away from home” atmosphere and was a great boost of morale.

 

To fulfill its role in the cost-sharing agreement with its partners, Congress began appropriating funds in June 1941 for the erection, renovation, and furnishing of several hundred recreation buildings in towns and cities that were struggling with defense-related growth.  Funding was supplied by a series of appropriations that continued throughout the war under the auspices of the Defense Housing and Community Facilities and Services Act of October 1940.  This was one of many pieces of preparedness legislation enacted during this period and was popularly known  as the Lanham Act after its sponsor, Representative Frederick Garland (Fritz) Lanham of Texas.

Despite its standardized origin, each center was individually modified to fit its site requirements.  Wartime photos and postcards reveal that the buildings were produced in a variety of materials, including wood, brick, cinderblock, or any combination of the three.  Many had second stories above the lobby or were expanded through the addition of basements. 

 

Off-the-shelf components were used to finish the interiors.  Ceiling lights, plumbing fixtures, door knobs, radiators, and other components varied from building to building.  Some wooden floors were covered with linoleum, others were left bare.  Furnishings were standardized and included oak settees, couches, large and small chairs, desks, writing tables, rugs, cots, and folding metal seats for the auditorium.  Each unit was delivered complete with appointments such as table lamps, fans, drapes, Venetian blinds or window shades, blankets and pillows, waste baskets, coffee urns, book cases, clocks, a movie projector, a kitchen range, a refrigerator, a 12-foot soda fountain, a toaster, a juice extractor, a malted milk dispenser, and even a fudge warmer. 

 

Construction costs were budgeted at around $67,000, for the structure. Furnishings and equipment added around $13,000 to the cost for a final total of approx. $80,000.  This was a substantial amount of money in 1941.  To place these figures in perspective, the average annual salary in the United States in 1940 was $1,400 and the median price of a new house was $3,000.  According to an on-line inflation calculator, $80,000 in 1941 dollars translates to a modern value of about $1,320,000.00.  These expensive and permanent structures, which communities after the ward ended would inherit as substantial and productive long-term asset, served as quite an incentive for communities such as Newton Falls to contribute their land and many other resources to the government. 

Construction

During the initial round of construction (autumn and winter of 1941-1942), the total number of Government-erected buildings appears to have been around 360.  Construction projects for the U.S.O. continued after the war began and lasted at least until 1943.  Exact final figures are unavailable.  A U.S.O. survey report compiled at the end of 1942 states:  “201 [clubs] are housed in buildings provided by the Government in four standard types [that is, Types A, B, C, and D].”  A few more large centers may have been built after this date.

 

In the early stages of the project, the Federal Security Administration (FSA) used several names interchangeably to refer to its facilities, including “U.S.O. Clubs,” “Federal Recreational Buildings” and “Federal Community Buildings.”   

 

Supervising this massive project was the Division of Defense Public Works of the Federal Security Administration (FSA), established in July 1941.  The F.S.A. had been created in 1939 to coordinate the growing number of New Deal initiatives in the fields of public health, education, welfare, and work relief.  Its numerous responsibilities included the administration of the Social Security System.  Former Governor of Indiana Paul V. McNutt was its administrator from 1939 to 1945.  The F.S.A. was elevated to Cabinet-level status in 1953, becoming the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  Its modern successor is the Department of Health and Human Services.

 

To implement the U.S.O. program, the F.S.A. enlisted one more member in the partnership.  This was the Constructing Quartermaster Department (CQD) of the US Army Quartermaster Corps. The CQD was spearheading the rapid expansion of American military infrastructure with its Series 700 and 800 mobilization projects, which pioneered the development of construction techniques that made extensive use of prefabrication and standardization.  These concepts made possible the erection of entire military bases that seemed to spring out of the ground overnight. 

 

 Most of the planning and building was delegated to the Office of the Constructing Quartermaster Department (C.Q.D.) of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. (later called the Area Engineer) at the Army base closest to the community where the building was to be located.  This office conducted the site survey, prepared specifications and blueprints, oversaw the selection of a contractor through competitive bidding, and supervised construction.  An Army engineer, usually a junior officer, was assigned as site superintendent.  Once the center was finished, a completion report was prepared, documentary photographs were taken, and the building was inspected and accepted by the FSA. Construction functions of the Quartermaster Corps were transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers on December 1, effective December 16, 1941.

 

 The head of the Construction Division, Brigadier General Brehon B. Somervell (1892-1955), had promised to deliver the completed buildings to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a Christmas present.  This pledge increased the intensity of the project even after the construction functions of the Quartermaster Corps were transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers on December 1, effective December 16.  Thanks to these efforts, most of the centers were finished in December – a fortuitous date, as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor the same month.  By Executive Order No. 9082, February 28, 1942, both the Quartermaster Corps and the Corps of Engineers were assigned to the Services of Supply, later called the Army Service Forces, thus bringing the final stages of the project back under the command of Somervell, who had been promoted to lieutenant general and placed in command.

Architecture

Generic World War II buildings are often considered an architectural subset of their own.  The war was, according to some, “a major factor in driving innovation in building technology, and in turn, architectural possibilities.  Industrial demands resulted in a supply shortage (of such things as steel and other metals), in turn leading to the adoption of new materials, and advancement or novel use of old ones.  At the same time, there was a rapid demand for structures during the war (such as military and governmental facilities) as well as for housing after the war.  These factors encouraged experiments with prefabricated buildings.  The U.S.O. Building, however, is not the result of wartime experimentation or improvisation.   It is a conventional pre-war design from a mainstream New York City company of architects.

 

The building was designed in the International Style of architecture. The term, International Style of architecture, was effectively coined in 1932 as the result of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The most common characteristics of International Style buildings are said to be:  (1) rectilinear forms; (2) light, taut plane surfaces that have been completely stripped of applied ornamentation and decoration; (3) open interior spaces; and (4) a visually weightless quality engendered by the use of cantilever construction.  Importantly, it includes one of the earliest examples of the internal floor plan which allowed the interior office walls to be non-structural and non-load-bearing.  As such, the interior and partition walls are mostly plywood, and are easily reconfigurable.  This was a radical change in construction for the time period.  Because these long horizontal windows were impossible with traditional heavy enclosures, they became emblematic of a new direction in architecture. The ribbon windows along the front and the side of the building are one of its most conspicuous features. Decades later, ribbon windows are a fairly common element in modern and contemporary houses.  

         

The U.S.O. building meets all of these criteria.  Further, the transparency of building, construction (called the honest expression of structure), and acceptance of industrialized mass-production techniques contributed to the International Style's design philosophy.  The flat roof is characteristic of the International style, and the introduction of a peaked roof into the auditorium of the U.S.O. Building may seem untypical.  But a dance hall cannot have internal supporting pillars, and the U.S.O. program was a national building project that had to be applicable to all climates. 

 

The F.S.A. erected both large and small recreation buildings and renovated many existing facilities.  The available evidence indicates that it borrowed plans from several sources, including the military, Works Progress Administration, and other Federal agencies involved in construction.  However, the designs for its larger centers were prepared specifically for the USO program by the prestigious New York City architectural firm of Ely Jacques Kahn and Robert Allan Jacobs.

 

Standardized plans for the U.S.O. building program, including the Newton Falls U.S.O. Center, were designed by the New York architectural firm of Kahn and Jacobs.  In the words of his biographers, Jewel Stern and John A. Stuart, “Ely Jacques Kahn (1884-1972) was a leader in design circles of his time and a significant . . . contributor to the city’s rich urban fabric as a prolific architect, educator, and writer. . . .  Kahn’s most widely known work is associated with the 1920s building boom in New York City, during which over 35 extant examples of his design were erected. . . .  The New York Times has called him “one of New York’s most important commercial designers.” 

 

Robert Allan Jacobs (1905-1993) was a graduate of Columbia University and a second-generation New York City architect.  Early in his career Jacobs worked in Paris, he absorbed the principles of the International style, which became the dominant architectural form of the second half of the 20th century.  His partner, Ely Jacques Kahn was chiefly responsible for the firms Government contracts.

 

Also involved in the design work for the U.S.O. project was a junior member of Kahn & Jacobs named André Remondet (1908-1998).  A graduate of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris, he also attended George Washington University in Washington, DC, and the New York Structural Institute.  In 1973, as the result of an architectural competition, Remondet was selected as the designer for the new French Embassy complex in Washington, DC.

 

Kahn & Jacobs prepared templates for three large recreation centers, known in ascending order of size and complexity as the Type A, Type B, and Type C.  These flexible designs featured large auditoriums or “social halls” with projecting lobbies and flanking wings that could easily be modified to adapt the structures to their surroundings.  In the Type A Building, the smallest and most compact of the three and the type of the Newton Falls U.S.O. Center, the auditorium was located directly behind the lobby and its wings, which contained the lounges, staff offices, showers, rest rooms, and kitchen.  The Type B and C Buildings were L-shaped, allowing visitors to enter the lobby or the auditorium separately.  All three designs were International in style.  The Type A is especially distinctive with its severely utilitarian façade, flat lobby roof, ribbon windows and industrial sash.   The Newton Falls Historic U.S.O. Building & Community Center, a Type A, is thus noteworthy both for distinguished pedigree and architectural significance. 

CLOSING

As America entered World War II, the home front embarked on the most monumental mobilization in the country’s history. A massive federal wartime building program constructed facilities needed to produce military equipment and ammunition. Federal programs supplied housing for the massive number of workers migrating to jobs in the country’s new wartime production centers. Federal government agencies partnered with private non-profit organizations to address the social impact of the mobilization upon servicemen and women and home front defense workers. The Newton Falls USO Center is significant for its role in providing recreation and entertainment to the men and women workers in the Ravenna Arsenal, “one of the world’s largest ammunition loading plants.”6 The Newton Falls USO Center retains its historic integrity of location, setting, design, feeling and association.

 

The fundamental undertaking and purpose of the Newton Falls Community Center as a unique U.S.O. facility during WWII are proudly noble, warmly supportive and fiercely patriotic. 

 

Its legacy of tireless service to our country’s war effort and to the people of our communities during this dark and fearful time still stirs memories and strong emotions in some of our local citizens who remember or know the story.

 

So that we never forget the legacy of our U.S.O. Center and its important contributions to this great nation, it is important that we commit to preserve and protect our Community Center for the town of Newton Falls and for its present and future generations.

SOURCES:

Warren Tribune Chronicle

Ohio History Connection/Ohio History Central website

Lyman’s Histories and Stories of Newton Falls by Lima Lyman

Werner Lange, PhD, DMin. – Mayor Bailey’s Dedication Speech

Ravenna Ordnance Plant – ROP Atlas (Newsletter) Vol. 2 –Releases  #1 and #2;

Trumbull County Tax Records

Trumbull County Recorder’s Office  - official land records

Newton Falls Public Library

Warren – Trumbull County Public Library

Everard H. Smith, Ph.D., historian with focus on military history (Wilmington, N.C.)

The History of the Ravenna Arsenal by Ralph A. Pfingsten

To the Friends of the U.S.O. - February 1943, p. 7.

Jewel Stern and John A. Stuart, Ely Jacques Kahn, Architect:  Beaux-Arts to Modernism in New York, 2006; New York Times, August 27, 2006.

New York Times obituary, November 5, 1993; Most of Jacobs’s papers are at the Syracuse University Library.

Diane Shaw Wasch et al., World War II and the US Army Mobilization Program:  A History of Series 700 and 800 Cantonment Construction, Department of the Interior, National Park Service.