That’s why the decision to close the Horizons Club at Robins Air Force Base is not easy to accept for some people and why its passing is not without emotion. It had very deep roots in the history of the base and in the hearts of people who dined, danced, unwound, networked and enjoyed each other’s company inside its welcoming walls.
Base leaders made the decision in August to close what had become an all-ranks follow-on to a facility formerly reserved exclusively for officers and senior civilians. Busted pipes, an outdated kitchen, too few customers, too much off-base competition … all made closing the landmark a logical – although painful – decision. It will receive some rehab and reopen as a conference center, but it won’t be the same.
Dr. Bill Head, the Robins historian, understands the decision and why it was made.
“Some times, you’re the guy in charge when it hits the fan and you have to do what you have to do,” Head conceded. “I just have so many happy memories of the place, so it’s sad for people like me.”
The structure traces its lineage to the founding of the base in the early 1940s. Maj. Edgar Boynton, from the Army Corps of Engineers, was the architect and he designed the structure to be what it became – the social, recreational and morale focal point for officers assigned to the burgeoning base on an isolated tract of land south of Macon.
“It was a wooden building as so many were during World War II because they weren’t sure they would keep either the base or the buildings after the war,” Head reported. “They didn’t keep a lot of the buildings after the war, but they kept that one.”
Charles Thomas, then a colonel, was sent by the Army in 1941 to oversee construction at the base. By 1943, Thomas was a major general and the commander of what initially became the Warner Robins Air Service Command.
One of his successors in 1944 was Maj. Gen. Thomas Chapman who commanded the installation through the end of the war.
Both Thomas and Chapman placed great value on the club and that focus was continued for decades.
“It was a place where Gen. Thomas and Gen. Chapman would meet with families,” Head said. “It was a place where the officer wives met. Before the base golf course had a separate club house, it was where golfers would tee off.”
From the beginning and on into the 1980s, the restaurant at the club was the finest in the area. Gourmet food – or close to it – was served on white linen table cloths often with live music in the background. A full-service bar was readily available – even on Sundays – to meet any preference.
“”For decades, it was the only game in town,” recalls the veteran historian. “That was before we had Longhorn Steakhouse and places like that. The prime rib special was exceptional and that Sunday brunch was something. Plus, for many years the club had one of the best pastry chefs anywhere – with coconut pies and Boston cream pies to die for.”
It was also a convenient location for building personal and professional relationships.
“In the old Air Force, they had a lot of Saturday dances that were really important and it kind of stayed that way into the 1960s and 1970s,” Head said.
Commanders also would use the club to hone esprit de corps.
“When Gen. (Cornelius) Nugteren was commander, everyone had their own little discretionary fund and people would come, get a hors d’oeuvre, maybe a cocktail and get together socially,” he recalled. “Senior managers and even junior nobodies like me got to know each other. It was very useful, because I got to meet a lot of people that I otherwise would not have known.”
Belonging to the club was also a badge of honor, the historian insisted.
“It was your club,” he said. “Some traditions are important because they remind us that the military is a different culture. People can talk about the modern times, but there are some things that the military created for good reasons … and the reasons still apply.”
Head is pleased that the building will be spared.
“It is historic,” he underscored. “It’s one of the first they put out here.”
Keeping a few buildings from the base’s past is important, he believes.
“They remind our Air Force that we did important things and where we came from,” he said. “If you don’t know where you came from, you’ll never know where you’re going.”