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The Fort Huachuca Black Officers Club, relic of segregated military, gets new life

Arizona

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 12/11/2017, 1:52 p.m.
Seventy-five years ago, it was the heart of social activity for hundreds of...
Black Officers Club

Seventy-five years ago, it was the heart of social activity for hundreds of Black officers at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., the sprawling military installation near Sierra Vista. The building — which hosted banquets, private parties, musical performances and art exhibitions — is one of the last such World War II-era clubs in the country, reports AzCentral.com. Now finally, after years of dead-ends, preservationists have secured the U.S. Army’s support to revive and reuse it. The $4.4 million project is designed to restore the building's exterior to its historic appearance, while expanding the facility to accommodate restaurants, event space and meeting rooms for military and civilians. “We feel that this is the best possible use, because it meets a lot of the community's current needs while being very sensitive to the history of the site and its original function,” said Christina Morris, field director with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which is leading the public-private coalition behind the preservation effort. “There were thousands upon thousands of buildings like this at one time, but it's a rapidly vanishing piece of our legacy. It's important to tell the segregated military history of African-American soldiers who served their country but weren't really acknowledged as being equal at the time.” Fort Huachuca was the largest training camp for African-American soldiers during World War II, and the only Army post in the country to house a full division of Black troops. “Pretty much if you were a Black soldier in World War II, you came through here,” said Tanja Linton, a Fort Huachuca spokeswoman. “Anytime I read about a prominent Black person who was in the Army in World War II, once I researched more, I found out he trained at Fort Huachuca.” Several groups rallied to save the club, including the Southwest Association of Buffalo Soldiers, which attempted to turn it into a museum. Mountain View was listed as one of America’s most endangered historic places in 2013. The National Trust got involved five or six years ago “when the Arizona Preservation Foundation and Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation raised the alarm,” said Morris, the field director. The first two phases of the project, to restore and update the building and grounds, would cost nearly $4.5 million. Annual operating expenses are estimated at $1.9 million, though projected revenue from restaurant and bar sales would comfortably cover those costs. The Army's conditional approval, granted in November, allows the coalition to explore partnerships, commercial leases and other funding possibilities, including government grants. Arizona State Parks and Trails already has applied for a $500,000 capital grant from the National Park Service’s African-American Civil Rights fund, which preserves sites tied to the African-American struggle to gain equal rights. Linton, the Fort Huachuca spokeswoman, said maintaining the club's historical elements will become “that much more important as we lose more and more members of the Greatest Generation every day. I'm the daughter of a Black Air Force officer, and I didn't grow up knowing any of this history, so it's important to share it with people who don't know that history very well, either.” she said.