TAMPA — It's a military tradition that's more than a century old, ingrained in movies, books and the public consciousness.
Officers had one club at military bases. Enlisted personnel had their own.
And the two did not mix.
But nearly two years ago, MacDill Air Force Base opened its officer's and enlisted clubs to personnel of all ranks. And in October, the two clubs in two separate buildings will be combined under one roof for the first time in MacDill's history.
The move follows a trend at military bases around the nation where clubs have been combined as a cost savings.
The 70-year-old building that has long housed the Officer's Club, called the Bayshore Club, will be demolished in October to make room for a $10 million, 350-room lodging facility for visiting Air Force personnel and others by 2014.
The base's current "MacDill Inn" and its 176 rooms also will be demolished. And both officers and enlisted personnel will share space at the Surf's Edge, previously the home of just the enlisted club.
Expanded lodging has become more critical, officials say, as operations at MacDill have grown. MacDill is home to the two major military commands leading wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command.
Combining enlisted and officer's clubs is happening at bases in all the services. Air Force officials say 63 of its 88 clubs now combine enlisted personnel and officers. The Air Force has gone from 29 standalone officer's clubs in 2000 to just five today.
"This is typically what you're seeing these days," said Fred McKenney, chief of the food and beverage division of the Air Force Services Agency. "The combined clubs are more economically efficient. They merge staffs. They continue to provide morale-enhancing activities while being economically responsible."
McKenney noted that club membership for all ranks has decreased, partly due to an increasing number of drinking and dining alternatives both on and off military bases.
He said bases are trying to make their clubs more family friendly to increase membership. That often includes child care and events catering to spouses and children.
"Programs don't focus on alcohol consumption," McKenney said of Air Force clubs in general. "We've changed over the years. We've needed to change."
The Bayshore Club has been the heart of much of the base's social activity for nearly the entire history of MacDill, which opened in 1939, just two years before the Officer's Mess.
President John F. Kennedy had lunch at the Officer's Club during a November 1963 visit to Tampa, just a week before his assassination in Dallas.
But MacDill spokeswoman Capt. Regina Gillis said in a written statement that the Bayshore Club building for all its age isn't considered particularly historic.
"Because of the extensive piecemeal additions and modifications from the 1941 initial construction as an officers' mess hall … it is not recognized as a historic building," Gillis said.
Kathy Kennett, president of the Military Officer's Wives Club, which has long met at the Bayshore Club, said she wondered if the Surf's Edge will itself eventually close.
Kennett, wife of a retired Navy captain, said club members have enjoyed the facilities of the Bayshore Club.
"The history is going to be missed," she said Friday. "A lot of people are really saddened to see it come down."
William R. Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3432.