In anticipation of this weekend’s free walking tour The Flâneur & The City: Victorian Los Angeles, and the October 20 free screening of the Union Rescue Mission’s film Of Scrap & Steel, in this post we explore the Union Rescue Mission’s Victory Service Club at 220 South Main, which opened in August of 1942 in the newly-purchased northern part of the Swanfeldt Building. The URM had purchased the southern portion of the Swanfeldt Building in 1926, after having their original 1896 headquarters seized by imminent domain for the construction of City Hall.
The top photo on the right, which is a still from Of Scrap & Steel, shows the Fun Palace at 243 South Main. The second photo, not a still from the film, shows the URM’s Victory Service Club, across the street at 220 South Main. The third photo, another still from the film, shows the Victory Café, which was just a few doors south of the Fun Palace on the west side of Main Street. At first glance, the missionary-run Victory Service Club could not be more different from the penny arcade and its neighboring café, but a closer look reveals how these longtime neighbors coexisted and were shaped by each other.
The Fun Palace, run by veteran showman and coin-machine operator Fred McKee, was incorporated under the name Victory Amusements, which suggests a business connection to the Victory Café. Research reveals that the Fun Palace played a vital role in the leisure time activity of servicemen on leave in Los Angeles during WWII. Men in uniform who were seen hanging around the machines without playing were quickly identified by staff and given 50¢ in pennies. This was a wise investment in good will, and the establishment received a healthy return on its investment.
Soon after the war began, Fred McKee determined that servicemen up from their bases for a 24- or 48-hour “R&R” leave needed more than just a bright, clean place to test their skill and try their luck. They also needed somewhere to bed down for the night, and a welcoming place where they could fortify their souls in the face of the tremendous job ahead of them. To that end, Fred maintained a list of private homes and religious organizations which offered free accommodations to servicemen, and the Fun Palace became known as a destination for men on leave seeking direction in Los Angeles.
In March 1942, the URM’s Board of Directors allocated the necessary funds to purchase the northern half of the Swanfeldt Building and open a center whose objective would be “a day and night ministry seeking for the men in uniform that vital experience of Christian realities” which the URM described by the phrase “response.” This venue would stand in stark contrast to the bars, tattoo parlors, strip clubs and amusement arcades which provided more earthly amusements along Main Street.
In August 1942 the Victory Service Club opened its doors under the direction of Rev. Robert Bolin Hubert Mitchell. He brought in directly under him the young Rev. Don Spencer McCrossan.
Don McCrossan would shepherd the Victory Service Club through WWII, Korea and the Vietnam War. By his retirement in 1975, the club had played host to more than three million servicemen, and provided an unexpected oasis of comfort on Main Street which deserves to be remembered.