A brief history of Camp Roberts

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PASO Magazine Contributor Lynne Schmitz

When Camp Roberts was built in 1940, it was the second major Army facility in the county; Camp Merriam, (renamed Camp San Luis Obispo in 1940) had been built in 1928. President Theodore Roosevelt formed the USO (United Service Organization) in 1941, uniting the Salvation Army, the Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board. Their mission was to provide morale and a connection to home and family to the deployed troops — a mission still active today in over 200 centers worldwide.
They soon built USO centers in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and San Miguel. The distinctive buildings featured a spacious lounge bordered by a couple of smaller rooms on one side and a kitchen on the other. This entry led to a large two-story gymnasium with a stage.
The organization is probably best known for its many excellent shows during WWII featuring top Hollywood entertainers, both in the U.S. and overseas. (Bob Hope — undoubtedly the most famous and widely traveled entertainer for the USO — appeared on stage at the Camp Roberts theater.)
According to documentation, a property of approximately 4.94 acres of land behind Mission San Miguel was conveyed to the U.S. by a deed executed in May of 1942 by F. W. Tutin to build a USO Recreational Center. The San Miguel center was used through World War II and during the Korean War, hosting dances and providing a place to get away from life in the barracks. Local families met and hosted numerous soldiers, making life-long friendships. A lot of military families eventually settled in this area.
Circa the 1970s, the Franciscan Province purchased the building for the Mission San Miguel parish. It was named the Padre Martin Hall in honor of Fr. Juan Martin OFM who served at the mission from December 3, 1797 to Aug. 17, 1824 and is buried in the sanctuary near the altar. The mission shared the facility with the town. Several school programs were held on the stage.
In 1984 a group of parents organized the San Miguel Youth Association. They met at the Community Building but used the Hall for basketball games and fundraising dances. In 1975 they approached the Mission about using the Hall as a Youth Recreation Center. On February 10, 1976, the Center opened, featuring games, records and refreshments two evenings per week with volunteer parental supervision. Youth Officers with an Adult Advisor. The kids drew up rules, provided popcorn and helped clean up.
This successful venture came to an end in 1976 when a freak August thunderstorm rained havoc on the hall lounge while the roof was being replaced. Benefits held to raise funds to repair the damage couldn’t cover costs and the building was eventually razed. The only remaining USO building in the county is used as a community center in San Luis Obispo.
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Lynne Schmitz can be contacted at lynne@pasomagazine.com