On this day in 1943, work began to convert Pleasure Palace into USO dance hall (03-14-14)

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On this date in 1943, work began on a social center for the soldiers stationed at Buckingham & Page Army Air Fields. Buckingham trained some 50,000 B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator gunners between 1941 and 1945. Page Field served as a training base for P39, P40, P47 and P51 fighter pilots.

While many of the soldiers spent their off-hours out at “The Fill” (now Matlacha Island), wetting a line from the “fishingest bridge in the world,” the USO determined that the service men and women also needed a dance hall.

To build the new center, the second story of the Pleasure Palace was detached and floated by barge in two sections to its present location on Edwards Drive. Other needed material was obtained from Pleasure Pier, which was torn down because the wharf’s wood pilings had disintegrated, causing locals to facetiously rename it “Fort Myers’ White Elephant.” And for roughly two years, it served as a social center and dance hall for the soldiers stationed at Page and Buckingham Fields (although African-American troops were restricted to their own space on the second floor of McCollum Hall).

In 1965, the Chamber of Commerce converted the building into a tourist center, changing the name to the Hall of 50 States. The building has been vacant for more than a decade and, although hotly debated, its fate has yet to be determined.

The Hall of 50 States is part of True Tours’ downtown Fort Myers historic walking tour. For days, times and reservations, please telephone 239-945-0405 or visithttp://www.TrueTours.net.

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