Tinker history: “The commander’s house”

  • Published
  • By Dr. James L. Crowder
  • OC-ALC Historian
Proper military housing for the commanding officer has always been an expectation and entitlement. What was deemed appropriate could range from a well-equipped tent on the battlefield to a fairly elaborate and elegant abode on an established installation.

When then-Lt. Col. Clarence L. Tinker, the man for whom Tinker Air Force Base is named, proudly escorted the Army's Inspector General around the newly constructed, palatial, family quarters at Hamilton Field, Calif., in 1935, the distinguished visitor was not impressed. Every time he saw another walk-in closet, he quipped "wasted space, wasted space." A few days later, Brig Gen Henry H. "Hap" Arnold sent out the word, "We'll have a certain type of quarters. No more of this country club type."

However, many airfields already showcased prestigious looking houses for their commanding officers. Fortunately, most of the historic homes have been maintained, preserved and upgraded for current use. For example, the Air Force Chief of Staff's house, known as the Air House, on the manicured grounds of Ft. Myer, Va., boasts of a panoramic view of Arlington National Cemetery and Washington, D.C. The Robins House at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, presents a classic, upscale Tudor style house which is also known as Quarters #1 for the commander of the Air Force Materiel Command.

Tinker AFB has had three different houses for the highest ranking officer and all of them reflected more of the contemporary times and equalitarian spirit of the Great Plains.

However, before any official commander's lodging was constructed on base, the first commander of the Oklahoma City Air Depot resided just a few blocks from the Oklahoma state capitol building, in the Lincoln Terrace Addition. Col. and Mrs. William R. Turnbull leased a stately, Spanish style, two-story house located at 603 N.E. 17th. Built in 1927, during the heyday of one of the state's oil boom, the 3,300-square foot structure was perfect for entertaining and engaging local civic and social leaders.

The first on-base facility, specifically constructed for the air depot commander was part of a set of houses that stood southwest of Bldg. 460, today's headquarters for the 72nd Air Base Wing. Seven wood frame houses were aligned on Staff Loop with only a few trees separating them from the diagonal runway. The first in line was Bldg. 463, constructed in 1944. It covered a modest 1,728 square feet but had an adjoining, 8x12 sentry house. It was perfect for Col. Thomas R. Lynch and his family. The other residences were not completed until the following year, but they were slightly larger and a bit more presentable. Accordingly, the one just south of Bldg. 463, Bldg. 481 became the commander's house. Its first occupants were Col. and Mrs. Leslie G. Mulzer.

During the next 15 years, the commander's house, as well as the other houses for senior leaders, received room additions, interior upgrades, landscaping and garages; however, they retained their white, frame cottage appeal similar to houses just off base. They also reflected the unpretentious style and appearance of the officers' club that was only a short stroll past the tennis courts.

After the senior commanders migrated to their new brick homes built west of Crutcho Creek, the older structures were removed or modified for temporary uses. However, several base commanders chose to live in Bldg. 481 because it was so close to their headquarters building. All the original homes were gone by the end of 1977 with the exception of Bldg. 463 which was subsequently used as a childcare center, visiting officers' quarters, the OC-ALC History Office and a contractor's office. In 1989, it finally gave way to a new warehouse, Bldg. 469.

The currently used command circle of five houses was constructed in 1959 as part of the larger project of military family housing built for both officers and enlisted members between Air Depot Boulevard and Sooner Road. All installation housing across the county built during the period received the classification of Capehart Housing in recognition of U.S. Sen. Homer Capehart (R-IN) who spearheaded the drive for adequate housing of military families.

The special houses on Spaatz Drive, Bldgs. 5306, 5307, 5308, 5309 and 5310, were constructed at a cost of approximately $35,000 each - on the high end of a normal expense for ranch style house during the timeframe. Building 5307, with 2,534 square-feet, was designated the commander's house during the tenure of Maj Gen Thomas P. Gerrity.

Since then, 21 families have called the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center (OC-ALC) commander's residence home. Each one directed desired renovations and witnessed necessary adaptations. No doubt, some important issues were discussed and decisions made there. There were probably some emergency calls received along with the normal events of family life. Maj Gen William P. Bowden (Dec 85-Sep 89) remembered the many backyard receptions held for community leaders and the "steady fixture" of Mr. June Carter singing for every occasion. Maj Gen Joseph Spiers (Sep 89 - Jun 94) and his wife endured a 90-day renovation that completely revamped the kitchen and master bedroom. A story Maj Gen Kenneth Eickmann (Jun 94-May 96) liked to relate was how he used a home-cooked dinner and his wife's lobbying ability to convince Gen Henry Viccellio, AFMC commander, to overturn his previous moratorium and approve the new OC-ALC emblem that is used today. Maj Gen Michael Zettler (Apr 99-Apr 00) recalled how his family endured a huge hole dug in one room made necessary to repair a water leak beneath the foundation. He also told a humorous story about his efforts to put a French drain under the backyard's fish pond to prevent a recurrence of the plastic container floating up and away during a hard rain. The engineering design worked well but the fish had near death experiences while waiting in a tub of water without the required temperature and oxygen levels. Attempting CPR on fish was not something anyone had trained for.

The other houses on Spaatz Drive served as the residences for other key leaders on base and have varied over the years depending on the rank and position of the commanders.

If only the walls could talk; we would listen intently.