Quonset huts first housed WWII soldiers, then civilians
Over the years, the Quonset hut, which made its debut as a military building during World War II, has been one of the best examples of re-use of a building. It could be the poster child for historic preservation of buildings.
First, a little Quonset hut history.
“Quonset” is an American Indian word meaning “small, long place.”
In 1941, the U.S. Navy commissioned the George A. Fuller construction company to design a lightweight, prefabricated building that could be assembled and re-assembled quickly.
The huts were first manufactured in Quonset Point, R.I., hence their name.
The military had many uses for these huts: showers/latrines, dental offices, isolation wards, housing, bakeries and offices, among others. During World War II, there were 170,000 such huts manufactured.
The arched steel frame was sided with corrugated steel sheets. The two ends were covered with plywood, with openings for doors and windows. The interior was insulated and had pressed wood lining and a wood floor.
In Grand Junction, the huts were used during the war for the Manhattan Project District at the Atomic Energy Compound. The site is now the location of the Department of Energy and the Business Incubator Center. There also were a number of huts between Grand Junction and Palisade used by the military to house German prisoners of war.
According to the publication “The Army and The Atomic Energy Program, 1945–1947,” Col. Elmer E. Kirkpatrick Jr. had to assure then-Sen. Edwin C. Johnson of Colorado that veterans would be given priority on equipment sold in Grand Junction when the military disposed of surplus materials.
Apparently, local veterans and civilians took advantage of the opportunity because several Quonset huts popped up around Grand Junction. From restaurants to teen hangouts, Grand Junction residents found a lot of uses for these buildings.
I am sure there are more out there than I have listed, but here are some of the locations past and present:
Bill Felmlee used a couple of the huts for the Chuck Wagon Café at Third Street and North Avenue.
Mesa Junior College purchased two huts, one to be used as a cafeteria, the other to house a physics class, bookstore and offices. These were used well into the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Teen Age Canteen, or the TAC building as most people will remember it, was erected at Washington Park in 1946. The TAC was where junior and senior high school kids went before school, during lunch and after school. It had a snack bar, dance floor and two pool tables. The hut was just north of Gunnison Avenue and faced Ninth Street before that street was closed. The TAC hut was moved to Lincoln Park in 1971 when construction of East Middle School began. The city is still using the hut.
For years the school district owned a hut at the corner of Sixth Street and Pitkin Avenue next to a plumbing shop. Then the city of Grand Junction purchased the hut and moved it to the city shops off Grand Avenue. It is still in use.
The Grand Junction Police Department kept a hut on the Ute Avenue side of the alley between Fifth and Sixth streets for evidence storage.
Part of the Pro Tire and Alignment building at 1018 N. First and Belford Avenue is a hut.
One large hut sists behind Tire Distribution Systems on North Avenue.
Rio Grande Motorway Inc. on South Fifth Street has two huts put together to make one building.
Four huts make up one large building at 711 S. Sixth St.
There are two huts — a large one and a small one — located at the School District 51 administration bus yard.
Not all Quonset huts were Army surplus.
In 1947, Reed Miller Jr. opened a business near the site of the present Office Depot to sell and assemble Strand Steel Quonset huts. Jim Ternahan, a Grand Junction resident who constructed the huts for Miller for a couple of years, said the first of these huts was the office. The company and its retail buildings no longer exist.
One of the Reed Quonsets still in existence houses Peach Tree True Value at 2963 North Avenue.
Preston Walker, then managing editor and later publisher of The Daily Sentinel, and his wife, Becky, bought and converted a couple of huts into a comfortably spacious home in the area of North Seventh Street and Patterson Road. The huts are still there but are no longer visible, as a house has been built around them.
No doubt this list could go on and on.
We had a great time “Quonset Hut Hunting.” If the bug to “Quonset Hunt” hits you, let me know if you find any more of these “small, long place” treasures.
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Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel. She is involved in many local preservation efforts and is on the board of directors for Colorado Preservation Inc.