Dover AFB Officers’ Club

by Harry Heist

The contract for the Dover AFB’s Officers’ Mess was awarded to the firm of Frank H. Wilson of Ardmore, Pennsylvania in the amount of $176,817 and the construction was completed on September 30, 1954.

The formal opening of the Officers’ Open Mess, then called the Officers’ Field Ration Dining Hall, took place on October 16, 1954. In spite of the extensive damage to the base’s facilities, caused by Hurricane Hazel on the previous day, the wing’s officers and their ladies attended the ribbon-cutting ceremonies presided over by the 1607th Air Transport Wing Commander, Colonel Francis C. Gideon.

On April 29, 1955, the designation of the Officers’ Field Ration Dining Hall was changed to the Officers’ Open Mess. On April 30, 1955, for a short period of time, the Hollywood Diner of Dover assumed management of the Open Mess, and on August 1st, their concessionaire’s contract was terminated and the Open Mess was initiated.

Officers' Open Mess, 1955

Officers’ Open Mess, 1955

The Officers’ Open Mess conducted a well-rounded entertainment program during the last six months of 1955. Some of the successful events included: a seashore party and Bermuda shorts night in August, a “Roaring Twenties” party in September, several floor shows during October, and in November a free Thanksgiving dinner was served to the members and their guests. Charlie Spevak’s Orchestra appeared at the Club in December.

The entertainment programs were paying their own way. A variety of entertainment was provided during the first six months of 1956. Particularly successful were the programs featuring Ralph Flanagan and his orchestra on January 28th, the Sauter-Finnegan orchestra on February 24th and Claude Thornhill and his orchestra on April 28th. On each occasion there were more than 250 in attendance. Also well attended was “Bowery Night” sponsored by the Wives Club on March 24th and a “Hillbilly Night”, complete with a hillbilly band for square dancing on April 14th. The regularly scheduled weekly entertainment program included bingo on Tuesday nights, duplicate bridge on Wednesday nights, and an informal dance was scheduled for every Saturday night. As a special attraction, the Club featured 25 cent drinks each Tuesday and Friday night. In midsummer, construction was started on the addition which would become the ballroom.

On August 15, 1956, Captain Durward L. Mathews was assigned as Club Secretary replacing Captain Seymour Friedman. And, in September, the Board of Governors formulated a plan for improvements to the Club. The plan was submitted to the Wing Master Planning Board and it was approved.

In October, Captain Matthews personally carried an application for a loan to the MATS Mess and Club Loan Fund located at both McGuire and Andrews Air Force Bases. The loan was approved in November 1956 in the amount of $15,000 which was used to furnish the new ballroom that would be completed by early 1957.

During the month of October 1956 further attempts were made to overcome the deficit operation in the Club. Nightly entertainment, which was started in July 1956, was discontinued as not being able to pay its own way and it only contributed to the deficit. Instead, emphasis was placed on hiring better bands every Saturday night with an occasional big named band, with an admission charge, to offset the cost of booking. Claude Thornhill’s orchestra played on October 12, 1956 with a fair crowd; however, Pee Wee Hunt’s band played on November 24th and it was a huge success.

Some of the other events at the Club during this period were a farewell party and dance in honor of Colonel Robert D. Foreman (the Wing’s Deputy Commander); which was attended by 500 people. The highlight of that evening was a show, directed by Captain Nick Popovich (a pilot with the 31st Air Transport Squadron), featuring a dance troop starring the talented pilots and navigators from the transport squadrons. Chuck Laskin’s orchestra and popular professional songstress Ann Reid of Washington, D.C. provided the music. Also, a dance was held on September 15th with music provided by the Skylarks; a “Saturday Night Spectacular” staged by the Officers’ Wives Club and Christmas and New Years Eve parties attracted 600 people. To bring in the New Year of 1957, dancing was held in the not yet completed ballroom to the music of Chuck Laskin’s orchestra.

In November 1956, the Club showed an increase in all activities. Thanksgiving dinner was praised by all and exceeded all expectations. It was marred only by the fact that the last seven people served ate ham as the traditional turkey was all but a wish bone. November was the first month that the restaurant operation showed a profit, the total sum of eighteen cents. In December the restaurant again showed a profit, this time $218.11! The overall financial condition of the club improved during 1956 and by the year’s end, the club showed a profit of $1,843.

At the beginning of 1957, membership dues were reduced from $6.00 to $5.00 as it was decided that the Mess was financially solvent. In addition, a BOQ delivery service was started and Bingo was changed from Tuesday to Wednesday night.

February 1957 initiated a new beginning of entertainment for the Club. Each of the twelve organizations on the base was assigned a month during which they were to sponsor a party and floor show. This new system was a huge success and on February 23rd, the 98th Fighter Interceptor Squadron was the first unit detailed.

Interior decorations of the ballroom were completed in April with the hanging of gold drapes and the painting of murals on the walls. The six murals, painted by John Moll of Oxford, Maryland, depicted an international travel theme, representing North and South America, Europe, Africa, the Near and Far East.

Several named bands were featured during the first six months of 1957, including Tony Pastor and the return of Pee Wee Hunt.

Quite a few changes occurred at the Club during the last half of 1957. The restaurant activity changed the noon meal to a buffet serving line featuring more self service with fewer items. A new feature was started in October with the showing of cartoons and movies for the children each Sunday afternoon.

In September, in order to stimulate interest in the various functions of the Club, the Board of Governors requested that each squadron designate an entertainment officer to work in conjunction with the Club’s Secretary. This officer’s job was to promote the Club’s activities within his squadron and endeavor to get the members to the Club’s functions.

The squadron sponsored monthly shows continued with a Minstrel Show by the 40th Air Transport Squadron in July, a variety show by the 20th ATS in August and a show entitled “Memory Lane” by the Maintenance Group in September. The Air Base Group and the USAF Hospital presented “Blind Dog in a Meat House” in October. “Dogpatch Daze” was presented by the 15thATS in December. Winding up the year 1957, the net profit from the Club’s operations amounted to $13,363.

The period January thru June 1958 was very successful for the Club as member participation increased and the financial condition improved considerably.

Although many activities on the base suffered during the “Blizzard of 58” in February, O’Club personnel pitched in with extra duty hours to keep the morale of its members at a high level. The Club was the only activity that did not run out of some commodity during this period.

The bingo operation was granted to the Officers’ Wives Club in February. Their telephone advertising and the “all you can eat” specials turned Wednesday into a big night.

The squadron monthly shows continued to draw huge crowds. Wing Headquarters sponsored the “Steve ‘N.P.’ Allen’s Tonight Show”; the 39th ATS presented “Western Justice”; the 1st ATS presented “South of the Border” and the 46th FIS’s production was titled “Speakeasy Days”. The 31st ATS presented a “Tribute to Musical Comedy” on the 30th and 31st of May. The show was performed in the base theatre for all base personnel. In addition, the 15th ATS presented “Damn Yankees”. The show was so popular that it went “on the road” to McGuire AFB for two shows. Yours truly was a member of the chorus line.

Dances were held at the Club each Saturday night. Some of the named bands featured, included Ernie Rudy’s band in February, Maynard McKissick in April and the ever popular Pee Wee Hunt back again in May.

The combination of Sunday movies for the kiddies, free cocktails and special family dinners continued to attract the Sunday crowd. Improved patronage was also a result of the relaxed dress code.

Club improvements, during the first six months of 1958, included a new marquee and the renovation of the front entrance.

Officers' Club with new marquee, 1958

Officers’ Club with new marquee, 1958

In November 1958, the final payment on the MATS loan was made, leaving no outstanding financial obligations owed by the Club.

The financial picture took a definite upswing during the first half of 1959. The ratio of assets to liabilities was 3 to 1, the best in over two years.

The work on the swimming pool, under construction behind the Club, progressed very well. The money for this project was received by loans from the Lajes Field Officer’s Open Mess, Lajes NCO Open Mess and a “non-interest” loan of $25 from each of the O’Club’s membership.

Game night was started on May 1, 1959 and remained a monthly feature on the first Friday of each month. Another popular special feature was a lobster dinner every Wednesday night.

Special activities during the summer of 1959 were very few although combo music was furnished on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. One combo of particular note was the Dale Foster Trio from the Pink Pony in Rehoboth Beach. Special events were resumed with the appearance of Stan Kenton and the Calvert Sisters in November and Lionel Hampton on the 13th of December.

Renovation of the Club started on January 6, 1960 and the Club was officially reopened on June 11th. It included the installation of air conditioning throughout, a new heating system, the renovation of the bar, dining room, TV lounge and the kitchen. It was rumored that the bricks used in the dining room’s renovation were flown in from England on a C-124. The cost of the bricks, including air fare, was estimated at $50 each. Only the crew can attest to the rumor’s authenticity.

During the months, the renovation was progressing and the Club operated a minimum of facilities using the ballroom only. The cost of the renovation came to $110,000 and interior decorating at $45,000.

Over the next few years the list of entertainment head-liners read like a Who’s Who in the entertainment world. In addition to the re-appearance of a few of the prior entertainers; big names such as Les Brown and his “Band of Renown”, Gabe Garland and his orchestra, the Chuck Cabot orchestra, comedian Larry Fontaine, Larry Elliott, Billy May, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Russ Carlyle, Ray McKinley and the Glenn Miller orchestra and Warren Covington with the Tommy Dorsey Group appeared at the Club. Duke Ellington’s performance was reported to have drawn the largest crowd since the opening of the Club, attracting more than 600 patrons.

As of December 1962, 1,125 members were using the facility. Restaurant Steward Albert Sturba served thirteen ala carte items and some three to eight specials each evening in the dining room which accommodated 140 guests. Each Saturday night a French dinner was served. On Sundays the chefs prepared a meal with an international flavor, alternating among the countries of the world.
Major Robert A. Shawn was the Club Secretary at the end of 1962. He replaced Major Robert C. Schutt in January 1961. Major Schutt was Club Secretary for almost a year taking over from Major Robert W. Ward in the fall of 1959. Others who held the post since its opening included: Captain Nick Popovich, Major Clayton M. McClendon, Captain Durward Matthews and Captain Seymour Friedman.

Si Zentner, one of the world’s renowned trombonists and his West Coast Orchestra appeared on March 3, 1963. His performance started out the year with some of the top performers that would play at the Club during 1963 including Sammy Kaye who appeared on the 8th of May. “So You Want To Lead A Band” was very popular with the audience as they were given the opportunity to lead Mr. Kaye’s orchestra.

Also appearing at the Club in 1963 was Bruce Stevens and his orchestra. Lew Startt, performed for the Club’s first dinner dance of the year and in June a performance by the all Hawaiian musical group the Hawaiian Aliis. Tommy Rey and his Carbide Steel Band was a big hit enticing those daring enough to dance the Limbo. Claude Thornhill again returned in June and Stan Kenton and his 22 piece “New Era in Modern American Music” orchestra played in July. Les Elgart in September and Russ Carlyle with Patty Clayton in November finished out the year.

The 1964 Club activities were kicked off with the Officers’ Wives Club’s “Snow Ball” dance on 24 January. The Dover All Girl Stompers were the main attraction.

In May of 1964 a special Dining-In was held in special tribute to Wing Commander Colonel W.C. Mauldin and Deputy Wing Commander Oren Poage. Col. Mauldin was retiring and Col. Poage was being re-assigned to Kindley AFB, Bermuda. Col. Mauldin expressed his appreciation to the officers stating “I’ve never had the pleasure of working with a finer group of men, and I mean men”. Colonel Mauldin listed as his greatest pride the dedication and professionalism of the Dover crews.

Peter Palmer appeared at the Club on June 26, 1964. Mr. Palmer combined the musical sounds of Neal Hefti, Ray Coniff and the Kirby Stone Four into an exciting evening of entertainment. He was playing nightly at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.

The Rickettes, a sensational new chorus line, was the highlight of the August 21st -22nd production of “Return from Tachikawa”. It was produced by the 1st ATS officers and their wives. The O’Club added to the festivities by presenting a special Oriental Buffet dinner including such savory dishes as Sukiyaki, Chickory Teriyaki and Filet of Sole with oranges.

Each month of 1965, the Club presented a variety of professional entertainment from South American fiesta dancing to pop singers to the Jimmy Dorsey Band and finally to a memorable New Years Eve party featuring Lin Doughten’s Orchestra. The Club’s Swiss chef featured an unbelievable New Years’ Eve buffet dinner with the presentation laid out on tables arranged in an inverted “U”. Featured entrees ranged from Chicken Cordon Bleu to Steamship Round and everything in between. To my knowledge, such an event was never again duplicated at the Club. This was extra special for me as I had just returned from a year’s duty in Vietnam, two weeks before, and my family and I were on our way to an assignment with the 438th Military Airlift Wing at McGuire AFB, New Jersey.

The OWC’s Charleston Babes re-enacted the spirit of the “Roaring Twenties” at the Saint Valentines Massacre Dance held at the Club in February 1966. Andy Blumauer appeared at the Club on October the 1st with his all Bavarian Show Band. Andy presented a program of dance music, Swiss yodeling, German drinking songs and polkas. A Bavarian dinner was featured throughout the evening. The “Holl-Dell Ball” made a spectacular debut on December 3rd. Heralded by the First Air Force Band, the guests enjoyed a unique evening banquet of food and prizes. Among the more lavish door prizes was a mink coat, a weekend trip to Miami Beach and a weekend tour of Wilmington. Numerous private businesses in Dover, Philadelphia, Salisbury and Wilmington donated the door prizes. There was a door prize for every tenth person. The Ball was to assist the OWC in their efforts to support several charity endeavors.

Every Wednesday in 1967, “go go” girls were featured in the cocktail lounge. There appeared to be little activity during the year except for the appearance of small combos and piano bar performers until October when the OWC sponsored the Pennsylvania Ballet featuring prima balerina Barbara Sandonato.

Flamenco came to the Club in March 1968 with the performance by Los Comperos, a vocal and instrumental group featuring flamenco dancer Pastora de Ronda. The group performed music and dancing from Spain, Chile, Italy and Peru.

Changes to the Club’s operation were announced in August 1968 with the appointments of a new secretary, a new steward and chef. The chef, Mr. Jack Gladwish, previously “created” at the Statler and Sheraton Hotels in Virginia and the Armitage Club in Quebec, Canada. His culinary delights ranged from Polynesian dishes to Chinese and German specialties.

The activities of the Club did pick up while under the leadership of the new management.1969 ushered in weekly entertainment by the Wives Club, Dining-Ins, squadron reunions, wedding receptions, promotion and retirement parties to Vaudeville type acts. However, it’s my personal opinion that in April of 1969, with the deactivation of the 31st ATS and the departure of the last C-124 from Dover, the O’Club never did duplicate the popularity it once had. The named bands, exceptional kitchen fare, squadron shows, the keg of beer commander’s calls and just plain comradeship were forever gone along with that of our once proud and beloved C-124 “Old Shaky”.

On April 16, 1999, building 813, Dover AFB’s Officers Club, was demolished to make room for the Eagle Creek club house. The Club’s replacement was the Collocated Club, a facility that housed both the Officers’ and Enlisted Clubs located in the former NCO Open Mess and known now as The Landings. The Landings opened for business on Super Bowl Sunday, January 24, 1998. Miss Delaware, the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskin cheerleaders, Elvis and Marilyn Monroe look-a-likes along with about 400 +/-patrons helped Colonel Felix M. Grieder, 436th Airlift Wing Commander, kick off the grand opening.

The Landings

The Landings

When opened in 1998 the Landings had an officer’s lounge, an enlisted sports bar, a barber shop, and separate officer and enlisted dining rooms. Today, as posted on the Landings website: “the club has a positive professional staff dedicated to providing only the best to the membership through teamwork and sincerity. Members, active duty, retirees, and DOD civilians and their guests can enjoy all the collocated club has to offer. The facility features dining areas, a lounge, multifunctional ballroom, meeting rooms, and administrative area. A professional caterer is available to assist the members in planning all types of special events from simple to formal.”

The Officers’ Wives Club is now known as the Dover Officers’ Spouses’ Club (DOSC). Recognizing that male spouses were an integral part of the spouse community they are now welcomed as members. In 2016, the DOSC decided to make another change to their club. To unite and support all Team Dover Spouses, as they all share a common ground regardless of their military member’s rank, they now offer membership to all active duty, Reserve, National Guard, retired and civilian spouses at Dover AFB.

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