Celebrate July 4th with Thalian Association Community Theatre at the Hannah Block Historic USO/ Community Arts Center open house! The public is invited to join us between 12:00 – 5:00 pm when staff will be in 1940’s era costumes, serving free coffee, and doughnuts courtesy of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts with sodas at the WWII price of 5 cents.
Visitors can step back in time in the lobby in the Hannah Block Historic USO Building, restored to its 1943 appearance complete with reproduction furnishings and WWII exhibits. The exhibits include memorials to Medal of Honor recipients Charles Murray and Billy Halyburton, a painting of building namesake Hannah Block, WWII memorabilia, a tribute to the 9th & Nixon USO, and the National WWII Memorial Giclee. An exciting new exhibit was just installed, a WWII era phone booth complete with vintage phone and Bell Telephone System posters.
Retired Navy captain and renowned WWII historian Wilbur D. Jones Jr. will host an exhibition of Rosie the Riveter memorabilia and book signing in the lobby museum of the Historic USO Building from 12:00 – 4:00 pm. Rosie the Riveter was an iconic poster of a female factory worker flexing her muscle, exhorting other women to join the World War II effort with the declaration that “We Can Do It!”. American women played important roles during World War II, both at home and in uniform. Around 5 million civilian women served in the defense industry and elsewhere in the commercial sector during World War II with the aim of freeing a man to fight.
In addition to collecting WWII memorabilia, Jones has authored 20 books, hundreds of periodical articles, is an ardent student of World War II, lecturer, consultant, photographer, and leader in preserving Wilmington area and North Carolina history. His 20th book, Terrorfliegers: How WWII American Airmen Survived German Captivity and POW Trauma, and his memoir, “The Day I Lost President Ford: Memoir of a Born-and-Bred Carolina Tar Heel, will be featured with other titles.
The documentary film Home Away From Home – the USO at 2nd and Orange will be shown all afternoon on the Hannah Block 2nd Street Stage. The 5-minute film was produced in 2016 by Emmy nominated filmmaker Rob Hill to honor the 75th anniversary of the Historic USO Building. The film captures the building’s rich history beginning with WWII, the transition to a community center and how it continues to serve our community today.
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, the building was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. On weekend nights, 600 men crowded into the basement dormitory. Typical events included big band dances, plays, music recitals, art exhibits, hobby shows, guest lectures, wedding receptions, and weekly radio broadcasts.
After World War II the City of Wilmington purchased the building for use by the Department of Recreation. In 1973 the building was renamed the Community Arts Center and placed on the National Register of Historic Places the following year. The Community Arts Center 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.
Today the Hannah Block Historic USO/Community Arts Center is one of three Type A USO buildings still standing and serves as a major cultural resource for area residents. Thalian Association has managed the building for the City of Wilmington since 1994. 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.
On Sept. 2, 2020, Wilmington became the first city in the country to be designated as a World War II Heritage City by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The designation celebrates contributions by Wilmington to the World War II home-front war effort, and efforts to preserve and honor those contributions. The Battleship NORTH CAROLINA Memorial and the restoration of the Historic USO Building are the foundations of those efforts.
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 ages 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 thalian.org.