13 August 2010

The Other Watering Hole


If Pancho Barnes and her Happy Bottom Riding Club hadn't existed, life would have been quite a bit duller at Muroc AFB, that's for sure.  Pilots would have had to find another watering hole and place to MaGreene2congregate.  Most likely that place would have been the establishment owned by Vemba Greene, better known as "Ma" Greene.  Back in the 1940s, Ma and her husband Angus opened a restaurant and liquor store located very close the air base that everyone referred to as "Ma Greene's".   You can see what it looked like, by taking a peek at the Walter Williams production journal entry -- the book cover is a shot of the place.  Not much to look at, but apparently a fairly cheery place that was out of the sun.

"Ma's was the nearest place to the base to get food," Chuck Yeager told us when we asked, "that you didn’t have to wait in the mess hall for. It was almost like a railroad car, you know, diner. And she served quick food, you know, hamburger and things. But," he continued with a laugh, "Pancho had good steaks!" Indeed, the Greene's little dining establishment couldn't really hold a candle to Pancho's, which had a hotel, gambling hall, airport, dairy, riding stables, swimming pool, and all those cute gals too!

Photo: trade token from Ma's place.  The sign for the establishment still exists, and you can see it at this link.

There are some really interesting parallels between Pancho and Ma.  Clearly they both were strong women, and good business people too.  As Vemba's 1977 obituary in the Desert News put it, "the Greenes, like Pancho Barnes, were sort of surrogate parents to the many G.I.s stationed at Edwards. Mrs. Green always wore a broad-brimmed straw hat and was a formidable woman with a heart of gold which she usually carefully concealed."  Like Pancho, the Greenes nearly lost everything when the U.S. Government condemned their place in the 1950s for an expansion of the air base.  They relocated and operated the "Muroc Jug Factory" which operated until 1970.  One of the main hangars at present-day Edwards now sits on the original "Ma Greene's".