Located in the City of Petersburg, the Byrne Street USO Club was constructed in 1942 as a United Service Organization (USO) facility offering recreational services and entertainment programs for African American troops during military segregation in World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the USO on February 4, 1941, to maintain morale among soldiers shortly before the country entered the Second World War. The U.S. military provided supplies and labor for the construction of USO buildings. Until the end of World War II, the Byrne Street USO Club functioned as a space for Black servicemen to socialize safely and for the troops and their families to receive aid. Designed and built according to standardized plans for USO buildings, the facility boasts a T-shaped frame with two main blocks—a one-story, flat-roofed block in the front and a one-and-one-half story, gable-roofed block in the rear—and displays elements of the International Style with its banks of windows on the front façade and lack of ornamentation. The building’s front block houses offices, general purpose rooms, a kitchen, and bathrooms, while the rear block contains dressing rooms and a large, open-space ballroom and stage. The Byrne Street USO Club shared recreational programs with Black servicemen and civilians, including music recitals, scholarly presentations, radio broadcasts, parades, and sports activities. Virginia State University acquired the property in 1948 and ensured the clubhouse remained in use as a recreational center for the African American community in Petersburg after the war. The Beaux Twenty Club, a male civic and service organization formed by the community’s Black businessmen, including Virginia’s first African American mayor H. E. Fauntleroy, Jr., made the Byrne Street USO Club building its headquarters from the 1960s to ca. 2018.
Many properties listed in the registers are private dwellings and are not open to the public, however many are visible from the public right-of-way. Please be respectful of owner privacy.
VLR: Virginia Landmarks Register
NPS: National Park Service
NRHP: National Register of Historic Places
NHL: National Historic Landmark
Photo credit: Marc Wagner/DHR, 2021