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[Note from the Editor:  This piece is republished verbatim from a column called Under the White Hat that ran in the Quonset Scout newspaper on October 3, 1946. The Quonset Scout served the Naval Air Station at Quonset Point during World War II and for some years afterwards.  This column discusses the entertainment venues that soldiers and sailors during World War II while on “liberty” would have enjoyed in Providence and nearby communities. Its author, calling himself the White Hat, was a male sailor whose personality shines through his column. If you had served in the state during the war, which hot spots would you have wanted to visit?]

As autumn struggles to gain recognition over a persistent and late New England summer, the White Hat prepares a new liberty schedule, to get the most out of Providence and neighboring communities. Depending upon the amount of personal desire the White Hat demands of a liberty, the Providence area offers as varied and complete an entertainment field as any major port in the country and the extremes in entertainment are as distant in comparison as is the Pirate’s Den on Aborn Street to the Princess Room in the Biltmore Hotel.

Postcard showing City Hall, the Sheraton Biltmore Hotel and the Civil War Monument (before its removal) in Providence prior to World War II. During the war, the Biltmore’s restaurant and bar were favorite hangouts for Navy officers (Sanford Neuschatz Collection)

Of course, some of Providence’s greatest attractions are now stowed sway until next Spring. But for every attraction that is secured, newer and timelier events take root and prosper in the realm of present desire.

Indoor dances will always rate high, for no other reason than to give the White Hat a good opportunity to meet and legitimately impress a dancing partner of his own choice. The fact that it is a dance will always assume a secondary air but nevertheless, the dance is the thing! So, for tops in the corn-raising field, head for Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet, an elaborate, yet reasonably priced, year-round dance hall, that will offer such top-notch bands as Gene Krupa, Vaughn Monroe, Jimmy Dorsey, Lee Brown.  etc., while tonight Sammy Kaye invades the band-stand at Rhodes. For the present, dances are held at Rhodes in the biggest way on Thursdays, although their schedule may vary during the next months.

The dance hall at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet attracted some of the best big bands and largest crowds (Sanford Neuschatz Collection)

In downtown Providence, on the corner of Washington and Mathewson Streets, dancing takes on a more varied conception, at the Arcadia Ballroom. Monday night is “waltz night,” Friday dancing to the tunes of yester-year, while Saturday rounds off the week with dancing to the tunes of locally popular Bob Clifford and his ex-G.I. Orchestra.

To “dine and dance” the White Hat has but to flip a coin: The Shelter in the Hotel Dreyfus; The Beachcomber in the Crown; The Princess in the Biltmore; or The Beach Head in Pirate’s Den, all within walking distance of one another.  (Incidentally all of the fairer sex that fought the “Battle of Providence” hold their nightly, uninterrupted meetings on the upper deck of that universally known (and heard) Port Arthur.)

For night spots on the outskirts of Quonset and Providence:  The Wickford Inn, The Showboat, Cabana, Sportsman’s Lodge, Oates Tavern, Twin Rivers Inn or The Quonset, to the left of, and closest to, the main gate.

Strictly on the look for the best chow, the White Hat can forget all about the Greasy Spoon (messhall) at the Piccadilly, on Weybosset Street, or Pier 76, on Mathewson Street.  Best bet for steaks, though, and for modern surroundings and that almost edible atmosphere is Sullivan’s Steak House, just above the R. I. Auditorium, on the way to Pawtucket.  (That visit better be on payday though.) For the King of Hamburgers, its Wimpy’s on Washington Street, for Southern fried chicken, The Chicken Roost, next to the bus station and for the most reasonable prices in town, it’s Christy’s on Aborn Street.

This liberty pass issued at the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center usually allowed a sailor 24 to 48 hours off base, restricted to a 40-mile radius from the base (PT Boats Inc.)

Just in case you’d like to know what the S.P.’s [Shore Patrol’s] consider trouble spots in downtown Providence and what you would never miss by not visiting—and listed in the order they rate on “the list”:

  • The Port Arthur: part Knuckles junction, part blood alley, part rat-race.
  • The China Clipya: two faced—one side is oh, so refined looking; the other oh so….?
  • The Pirate’s Den will be all out to get you along with the atmosphere, and the WR, BP Vets (Women’s Reserve, Battle of Providence Vets)
  • Bell-V-Dear offers the best for that section of town. Tops too in that area are The V. J. Island and Don Galloogly’s, strictly hangovers from the spittoon and sawdust days; swinging doors and rugged bartenders.  (W.R., BP Vets, from both world wars, hold their nightly get-together in these colorful and beer-splattered surroundings.)

Dooley’s will give you that opportunity to meet more characters under one roof as you’ve ever seen. Such as: the speckweight boxing champ of 1916, the baseball great, unsung and unhung in the Hall of Fame; and the trainer that broke in Man-o-War, before Man-o-War became Man-o-War!

For those stage shows, name bands and Hollywood stars, your best bet is The Met. And, if you still crave vaudeville days, Fays Theater is the only one in town that doubles up on the movies and on the stage.  As for the movies, no one theatre in town can compare, in attractions, with those shown right here at Quonset. And it appears that the downtown Providence theaters milk a picture dry before they change.

This is the banner for the White Hat’s column in the October 3, 1946 edition of the Quonset Scout.

Providence is a sportsman’s city. And you bet they can regret ever giving up their major league [baseball] club.  But, as it stands today, each season, with the accent on one sport will find Providence offering many runner-up sports programs.  Even now, as football draws record breaking crowds to the college, high school and semi-pro gridirons, boxing is slated to spread Wednesday evening at the Arcadia, to Monday evenings at the R.I. Auditorium.

Getting back to football, Brown Field should head the list of places to go on Saturdays. In the New England Conference, Brown will play host to many of this areas’ leading colleges, while Providence College and Rhode Island State should fill the Saturdays while Brown is on the road.

LaSalle Academy has always shown one of the strongest high school elevens in the East and their night games bear a strong resemblance to the college tussles.  Adding to the variety of Providence pigskin periods are the Providence Steamrollers, a pro team and featuring past college greats.  A week-end footballing around Providence would be well spent.

Well, those mentioned should prove Providence can offer the good along with the not so good and maintain a reputation for being a lively city. It has the crime and gangs and traffic of a big city; yet the people, ideas and principles of a small town. Most everything that goes on, goes over big, yet receives no unusual attention. Most everybody used to call it “The Safe City.”

This couple at Quonset Point won a jitterbug competition in 1943 (Quonset Scout)

For a final suggestion, that last place to go, after the tour of the town, is the Servicemen’s Center on Fountain Street, just up the street from the Bus Station, for a half-buck sack, shower, shave, shine and start all over again.

Banner Image: Sailors and their dates dance to live jazz from Tommy Dorsey’s band at the gymnasium at the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center at Melville in Portsmouth, about 1944. A part of this show was broadcast nationwide live on the NBC Blue Network radio.  (PT Boats Inc.)