A green and white house of history

FRC building is a century old

By J.M. Simpson on February 23, 2017

In 1917 there were almost 2,000 buildings on Camp Lewis, and all of them wore nothing but the splinters of the wood they were made of.

There was one exception, though.

The Camp Lewis House - sometimes referred to as the Hostess House - wore a coat of white paint with green trim.

Built by the American Red Cross, the house served as a convalescent center for wounded World War I veterans until they were able to return home.

The Red Cross designed the facility and funded its construction, and the military built the structure.

Specific to the Camp Lewis House, the Tacoma architect who oversaw the construction altered the standard plan a bit by adding the six Doric columns to the porch that accentuate the three sets of double-leaf glazed wooden doors complete with transoms and fanlights.

The two-story, wood frame building was laid out in a cruciform representing the Red Cross.

The construction cost $24,000.

The main hall had a great room/auditorium with a stage/solarium.  Large rose and blue rugs graced the great room.

In the building's first floor were two wings comprised of lounges, a library and a kitchen.  On the second floor were eight rooms for family members to stay in as loved ones convalesced.  

A donated piano and a phonograph proved popular with the soldiers.

The Red Cross symbol appeared in the woodwork on the fireplace as a decorative feature.

A major figure in the life of the Fort Lewis House was Caroline Paxton, a Red Cross hostess who dedicated a quarter of a century of service to the soldiers and family members who used the house.

At its February 1919 dedication ceremony, Maj. Gen. Joseph Leitch, Fort Lewis Camp commander, said that morale was just as important as medical care.

He also added that the house would be a relief for soldiers and their family members, and would provide the positive influence home life.

In June 1919, the Army announced a reduction in the Camp Lewis hospital patient count.  As a result, the Red Cross closed down its Hostess House operations in January 1920 and turned the facility over to the Army.

The Army then designated the building as an Army Service Club, and it soon became a center for soldiers to go for recreation and entertainment.

Card parties, bingo, dances, holiday events, children's parties, and weddings occurred there.

With the construction and operation of the Madigan Army Medical Center during and after World War II, the club building became the Fort Lewis Employees Association Club, or FLEA Club.  

In January 1955, the club was converted into a youth center where young people could come for games and after-school activities.

By the mid 1990s, however, the former Camp Lewis House with the green and white coat of paint looked down at the heels and ready for demolition.

That's when then Lt. Gen Glen Marsh, commander, I Corps and Fort Lewis, and his wife, Claire, ensured that the house was renovated and became today's Family Resource Center, or FRC.

Just outside on the I-5 side of the FRC is a plaque honoring Mrs. Marsh for her foresight in preserving the building.

The center, which served as a rally point for Family Readiness Groups during the most recent deployments, continues to offer programs to improve family morale.

Today, the Family Resource Center still wears a white and green coat of paint.

Walking into the Family Resource Center is a step back into a century of this feature of Joint Base Lewis-McChord's history.

For more information, visit jblmmwr.com or call 253.967.9496.