Los Alamitos Closing Bar : Base Turning Off Tap at Only Watering Hole

Times Staff Writer

It may not be the hottest issue of the 1980s, but to hundreds of Army reservists and members of the California National Guard at the Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center, it could permanently damage troop morale.

Nevertheless, the base commander, Brig. Gen. Daniel Hernandez, says it will happen: The only club on base that serves liquor will close. The Armada Inn is scheduled to stop doing business forever at the end of Superbowl Sunday, Jan. 31.

The Los Alamitos reserve center is the home of Army reserve units, some regular Army personnel and a major training center for units of the California National Guard. About 5,000 member of the National Guard, Army reserves, Navy reserves and Marines train there three weekends a month.

Located just inside the 1,300-acre base, the club--still called the Armada Inn from the days when Los Alamitos was a naval air station--has served beer and drinks to military men and women since the mid-1940s.

Its bars, tables, chairs and carpets have withstood years of combat boots and starched fatigues. The restrooms, with their large, noisy fans, carvings and writings, have a history of their own.

A group around a large table at the Armada Inn one evening last week seemed caught between nostalgia and anger. Around the table, enlisted men and officers drank pitchers of draft beer, cans of light beers and bottles of imported Mexican beer.

"Do you think you can save it?" one officer, who asked not to be identified, asked. "None of us really know the reasons why they're closing it. But it is a shame. We consider this our place, and the things we do here may not be understood in bars outside the gates."

The Armada, an enlisted man said, "is a place we can go and enjoy ourselves without worrying what others are thinking. It's kind of like home or a neighborhood bar, maybe something like the one on the TV program 'Cheers.' We can wear our work clothes here."

Gen. Hernandez said the Los Alamitos Armed Forces Reserve Center does not have a permanent population such as many other military bases do, where thousands of men and women live in barracks without cars.

"We'll let our guys use local merchants," Hernandez said. He also pointed out that the base post exchange provides many of the same services as the Armada Inn. "We just don't need the club anymore."

Hernandez noted that society is emphasizing health and exercise and "de-emphasizing" overeating and drinking.

The rising cost of insurance for the club also was a consideration, he said.

Still, the Armada Inn was solvent, he said. Even if it was losing money, the National Guard could not legally subsidize its operation the way the federal government subsidizes many military clubs on active Army, Marine, Air Force and Navy bases.

The Armada Inn was the junior enlisted men's club when the Navy had the base during World War II and until 1977, when the National Guard became the base caretaker. The other half of the building was the senior enlisted men's club during the Navy years. The officers club was in nearby Building 19.

The National Guard combined all the clubs into what is known as a "common club" shared by enlisted men and officers.

"If the Air Force can spend $7.4 million to outfit pilots with genuine leather jackets in an effort to keep them in the service, I would think the state could do something to keep a place open on base where many people who serve on weekends meet to talk and have a beer," said Army Reserve Lt. Col. Robert Guerra.

"I think it will be a real morale factor," Guerra said. "It is a place that reservists and guardsmen can go in their work uniforms and have a good time."

Those training at the base are urged not to visit community bars and restaurants in the evening wearing their fatigues.

Guerra said there could be as many as 25,000 retired military personnel living around Los Alamitos who may want to visit the Armada Inn to have a drink and talk with others who were or are in the reserves.

John Fox, a part-time bartender at the Armada Inn, said that if a petition had been circulated, "I'm sure we could have gotten at least several thousand signatures to keep the place open."

Around the big table last week, some reminisced about when "this place was really hopping" in 1983 and 1984. They recalled dance bands, bingo and steak dinners.

Then they talked about "the big party" when the Armada opens its doors for the last time Jan. 31.

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