WILMINGTON, NC–Due to COVID-19 the traditional July 4th Open House at the Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Arts Center has been canceled, but the show will go on with a virtual history tour of the 78 year old building. Local WWII historian Capt. Wilbur Jones will host an intimate tour of the wartime Wilmington exhibits in the lobby museum, which has been restored to its 1943 appearance. The tour can be viewed July 4th on the Hannah Block Historic USO-Community Arts Center Facebook page.
The Second and Orange Streets USO Club was erected by the Army Corps of Engineers at a cost of $80,000 and opened in December 1941. At the height of the war, attendance reached 63,000 per month. Typical events included big band dances, plays, music recitals, art exhibits, hobby shows, guest lectures, wedding receptions, and weekly radio broadcasts. On weekend nights, 600 men crowded into the basement dormitory.
After World War II the City of Wilmington purchased the building for use by the Department of Recreation. Today the Community Arts Center is a major cultural resource for New Hanover County. Classes are offered in a variety of visual and performing arts disciplines and the building is home to the acclaimed Orange Street Potters, the Official North Carolina Azalea Festival Youth Art Contest, the Memorial Day Weekend Festival Orange Street ArtsFest and the Wilmington Art Association Juried Art Show & Sale. The building was rededicated in Hannah Block’s name in 2006, in honor of one of Wilmington’s most distinguished civic leaders and WWII veterans, and in 2016 received the James D. & Rosalie Carr Memorial Plaque from the Historic Wilmington Foundation, Inc. Thalian Association has managed the building for the City of Wilmington since 1994.
Capt. Wilbur D. Jones, Jr., is a nationally known, award-winning author and military historian. A Wilmington native, he holds a University of North Carolina history degree, is a retired Navy captain and a former assistant and advance representative to President Gerald Ford. He served in the Department of Defense for 41 years, the last 12 as a Defense Acquisition University professor and associate dean. In 2000 Capt. Jones founded the 501c3 all-volunteer WWII Wilmington Home Front Heritage Coalition, whose mission is to identify, preserve, and interpret Southeastern N. C.’s rich WWII legacy. The Coalition curates the lobby museum of the Historic USO Building.
The virtual tour of the Historic USO is made possible by Curtis Thieman and Port City Films, an award winning full service video company based in Wilmington.
“The July 4th Open House at the Historic USO is one of our favorite events so we were very disappointed that it is not possible this year,” said Susan Habas Executive Director of Thalian Association Community Theatre. “Now thanks to Capt. Jones everyone can experience Wilmington’s proud WWII history from the comfort of home.
Established in 1788, Thalian Association Community Theatre is a non-profit, membership organization dedicated to enhancing the Cape Fear region through live community theatre and arts education. Thalian Association Community Theatre produces five major productions annually on the Main Stage at historic Thalian Hall and professionally manages the Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Arts Center for the City of Wilmington. The youth theatre program offers training and performance opportunities for children age seven through high school seniors. In 2007, Thalian Association Community Theatre was designated North Carolina’s Official Community Theater by the state legislature. For more information, go to www.thalian.org.