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November 17, 1998

A critical housing shortage plagued the entire U.S. in the aftermath of World War II when discharged veterans began returning home by the thousands in 1945 and 1946. Young families squeezed in with relatives or rented undesirable temporary quarters while communities everywhere tried to deal with the problem. Perry had its share of difficulties in finding a solution.

The government attempted to help by providing emergency veterans' housing to local communities that could meet certain standards. The armed forces found themselves with an abundance of wartime military living quarters they no longer needed as demobilization went rapidly forward. For the most part, the units were surplus wooden barracks that could be converted into apartments. It was a stopgap measure, but it beat living in converted garages or doubling up by the ex-GIs with in-laws and other members of the family. To qualify for a share of these units, local communities had to provide the real estate and essential services - electricity, sewer service and so on.

Perry city councilmen were unanimously in favor of getting some of the barracks for a "veterans' village" housing project, but finding the right location proved a formidable task. They first thought of the broad, grassy expanse at East Park (now Leo East Park), where space was not a problem and playground equipment for youngsters was at hand. Several residents of the area disliked the idea, however, and protested at a public meeting on March 6, 1946. The council listened, agreed, and began looking elsewhere.

One week later, at a special meeting, the council approved use of an alternative site on property offered by the Perry school board in northeast Perry. The location is now known as Jay Dauman Park. It measured 125 by 350 feet and had one major advantage over the East Park location -- all utilities were already available. At the time, a corner of the area was occupied by a "tourist camp" and a beer hall. City Clerk Robert Wilson told the council that the city might already hold title to the land through a federal grant. Mr. Wilson produced a document that seemed to confirm his understanding of the ownership. It was a copy of an original grant signed by President Theodore Roosevelt on March 10, 1905, as recorded in the county clerk's office here.

However, the school board's offer of a sub-lease and a similar agreement with Fred Stroebel, the tenant at that time, were accepted by the council to insure protection of their rights. Bert Shaw and Dr. George King, the only council members who had favored East Park for the project, attempted to have city dads reconsider the original site, but they were voted down. Mayor G.A. Ley was instructed to enter a contract with Mr. Stroebel and the school board to secure a sub-lease on the property.

A formal application was submitted to the government agency handling such matters. A few days later, Mayor Ley received a telegram advising that the site had been approved and that four two-story buildings with housing units for 20 families were being prepared for shipment to Perry. Two were type B buildings with six two-bedroom living units in each, and two were type D buildings with four three-bedroom units in each. The telegram to Mayor Ley was sent by Clarence Paden, secretary of the Perry Chamber of Commerce, and Stewart Beasly, county engineer, who had been dispatched to Fort Worth, Texas, to expedite the city's application. Sixty-five veterans had indicated they wanted to rent the units. The Chamber of Commerce announced that priority would go to the first 20 veterans on the list.

More about the post-war veterans housing project when we return.