National Preservation Awards honors restoration of Black Officers Club at Fort Leonard Wood

The National Trust for Historic Preservation last week gave one of its National Preservation Awards to Fort Leonard Wood in mid-Missouri for restoring Building 2101, better known as the Black Officers Club.

The building was notable in it contains a mural by Staff Sgt. Samuel Countee, whose work was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance. The mural is believed to be his only surviving artwork during his time in the military during World War II.

The National Trust/Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Award for Federal Partnerships in Historic Preservation honors a project or program where a federal agency and one or more non-federal partners, including tribes, have together achieved an exemplary preservation outcome.

Here’s the National Trust’s announcement of the honor to Fort Leonard Wood for preserving its Black Officers Club building:

Building 2101 at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri was built in 1941 and designated as the Black Officers Club for the seventh engineering training group, a place of respite for African American officers. The property is one of the last standing Word War II-era black officers clubs. While stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Staff Sgt. Samuel Countee, a nationally known artist, painted a prominent mural in Building 2101.
The rehabilitation of Building 2101, now dedicated as Staff Sergeant Samuel A. Countee Hall, was completed in 2019 after a successful Section 106 historic preservation review that involved a coalition of local, state, and national advocates, and the Countee family. As part of this process, Countee’s original mural was carefully restored and reinstalled with a glass, climate-controlled enclosure. The transformed multi-use facility now includes classroom, meeting, and event space, and is open for public visitation.

The presentation was live-streamed Thursday. If the embedding doesn’t work, the award to Fort Leonard Wood begins at the 16:16 mark:

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation reported:

“A large outpouring of support from the community helped to save Countee Hall, which tells the story of African American soldiers during a time of segregation so future generations can learn from that sad time in history,” ACHP Vice Chairman Jordan Tannenbaum said. “The ACHP congratulates the United States Army, federal, state, and local partners, and all those who supported the project.”
“The National Preservation Awards are an inspiring showcase of how historic preservation continues to evolve as a powerful force that builds stronger communities throughout our country,” said Paul Edmondson, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “This year’s PastForward theme is Lead the Change, and our award recipients truly are doing just that for particular places and for the national preservation movement. It is an honor to present the National Trust/Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Award for Federal Partnerships in Historic Preservation to the Fort Leonard Wood Missouri Black Officers Club for the important work they are doing in Missouri.”

The primary recipient of the award was U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood. Co-recipients were the Pulaski County chapter of the NAACP; the Countee family; Missouri Preservation; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center; Construction Engineering Research Lab; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Kansas City District; and the Fort Leonard Wood Area Office.

Building 2101, aka Countee Hall, was restored two years ago after it previously was slated for demolition. Countee Hall is one of two Black Officers Clubs from World War II that still are standing.

The Texas State Historical Association wrote this about Countee’s Fort Leonard Wood mural:

The painting portrayed a young African-American couple enjoying each other’s company while picnicking; the piece has been called a subliminal portrait of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. A celebration of black love and beauty, the painting also challenged the widely-held notion of white superiority and black inferiority.

Countee died in 1959 from complications of cancer.

More about the Black Officers Club can be found here.

Fort Leonard Wood, which was built in 1940, remains inextricably linked to Route 66. According to the “Route 66 Encyclopedia,” construction of the base resulted in changes to Route 66 in the region, including eliminating a bottleneck at the village of Devil’s Elbow and construction of a four-lane bridge over the Big Piney River.

More than 3 million soldiers were trained at Fort Leonard Wood, and many used Route 66 to arrive at the base or go home to their families.

(Image of the restored interior of Fort Leonard Wood’s Building 2101 courtesy of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.