History of the Historic USO in the IWV

History of the Historic USO in the IWVBy GENE SCHNEIDER, NARFE, IWV Chapter President

The Historic USO Building is a unique monument to the people who built China Lake and Ridgecrest, and a major resource for our community.

Here is a synopsis of the history of the building, as well as the efforts to renovate that and other historical sites, share by Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert President Tex Hoppus at a meeting of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees.

Just months after Naval Ordnance Test Stationwas established in 1943, the first base Commanding Officer, Capt. Sherman E Burroughs, petitioned to allow a USO chapter to open in Ridgecrest.

His successor, Capt. James Sykes, emceed the dedication in October 1945 and brought an F4U Corsair airplane on site for additional local color.

The building served as a USO Club for 15 months (October 1945 to January 1947) and became the center of community activity. Then the building served as a Kern County Building for 33 years (January 1947 to January 1979) where it was used as a justice court and several county offices. When county activities moved out, the county gave the building to the city of Ridgecrest. But the building was padlocked and basically abandoned in August 1993.

The city planned to sell it to a film studio, which could film it burning down, and use the footage in movies!

The Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert jumped in and asked if they could restore the building instead … make it a community center again.

In 2005 the restoration was complete, and the California Assembly agreed with its designation as “The Historic USO building.”

Besides the building itself, HSUMD has restored several other buildings. In 1955 Kern County built a jail behind the main building with three holding cells, to support the Justice Court that was housed there. This is now restored to its original form.

Kern County Firehouse was opened to county firemen and Call Fireman volunteers in 1952. The volunteer firefighters were called by a large air horn, and only they knew the code that indicated where in the city the fire was located. The building, the air horn and an air raid siren that was also used have been restored.

Two large Quonset huts, donated by the base as engine houses for the fire department, are now being restored.

Girl Scouts moved a one-room schoolhouse from Isabella to Ridgecrest in 1955, because it was about to be drowned when Lake Isabella was filled. It was moved to the HSUMD property in 2010 and has been beautifully restored with materials derived from the time of its original construction. The inside has now become an elegant Veterans Memorial.

The Historic USO Building has once again become a center for community activities.

HSUMD hosts a free breakfast for veterans and their spouses on the third Thursday of each month.

A professionally led Veterans Stress Support Group meets in the Veterans Memorial Building.

The Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce meets in the Historic USO on the second Tuesday each month. The Agua-bonita Flyfishers Club uses the firehouse for its meetings.

The HSUMD gift shop is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The shop hase books about the area, many of HSUMD itself publishes. They also sell various knick-knacks of local color and See’s candy. HSUMD membership is $35 per year.

For information about NARFE, contact Schneider at aris-attic@houseofhrair.com or 760-375-4291.

Pictured: The Historic USO?Building — now a hub of community activity — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2019-08-02