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Sasebo Naval Base United Service Organizations Director D.J. Stanhope explained why a relaxed, tastefully decorated coffee house atmosphere will serve Sasebo's sailors well in the years to come.
Sasebo Naval Base United Service Organizations Director D.J. Stanhope explained why a relaxed, tastefully decorated coffee house atmosphere will serve Sasebo's sailors well in the years to come. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Ever wonder about those “pleased shock” emotions the duped-spouse character on “While You Were Out,” the television interior design show, so often seems to be experiencing?

Beginning Saturday, base residents might have a fast and easy way to learn what it feels like.

They’ll just need to step inside the Nimitz Park United Service Organizations facility.

Since closing in late April 2003, the Nimitz USO building experienced a slow, gradual and major transformation from a restaurant with a menu as forgettable as the furnishings to what resembles an Ethan Allan showroom, replete with professional espresso machine.

The grand reopening and ribbon-cutting is 11 a.m. Saturday; the public is invited.

“One of the first things I noticed when I arrived here as the new USO director,” said D.J. Stanhope, “was what seemed to be the enormous potential of the Nimitz Park location.”

Now it boasts polished wood furniture, deep easy chairs and recently reupholstered sofas.

With the help of some Seabees and many volunteers and donors, the interior has morphed into what seems a comfortable coffee house with nooks for both conversation and cappuccino, plus space for poetry readings or a night of local musical talent.

Also, Stanhope said, many sailors have complained Sasebo lacked “a nicely appointed, attractive place to take their girlfriends when they bring them on the base … that’s another reason we’ve designed the interior as we have.”

Built in 1994, Nimitz Park USO is positioned on the U.S. military side of tall hurricane fencing that effectively separates the base’s sprawling Nimitz Park from Sasebo City’s Central Park.

Local community funds equivalent to hundreds of thousands of dollars funded the Nimitz Park USO construction.

The money came primarily from Sasebo, with a few donations from as far as Tokyo.

The original vision was of Nimitz Park USO as a meeting place for U.S. servicemembers and local Japanese residents.

But the facility seldom was widely visited, despite attempts to use it as a gift shop, and for ethnic and specialty restaurants.

Local operators were hired to run the facility via a USO-initiated contract, which expired in April 2003.

Stanhope, a USO director in South Korea before her transfer, has said she decided a contract renewal would not best serve the sailors USO seeks to accommodate.

Total cost of the renovations — including a top-shelf industrial capacity espresso, cappucino and coffee apparatus costing about $5,000 — tallies to “slightly less than $20,000,” Stanhope said during a pre-opening tour.

“It was just time for it to undergo a facelift and return to operating based on the original intentions of the founders of the facility,” she said.

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