American Legion building getting upgrade

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer February 15, 2013 09:53 am

Progress on the new American Legion building addition continues thanks to the help of volunteer Joe Davis (pictured) and many others. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
Progress on the new American Legion building addition continues thanks to the help of volunteer Joe Davis (pictured) and many others. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer

Post 43 undergoing remodel to add 3,500-square feet to existing facility 

American Legion Post 43 in downtown La Grande will be a bigger, better place for veterans and their families to gather following a remodel that adds about 3,500 square feet to the building.

The past several months, contractors and volunteer laborers have been building an extension on the north side of the old, historic structure at Fir Street and Jefferson Avenue. When the project is done later this year, people attending meetings, meals and social events will no longer feel like sardines jammed into a can. 

With an estimated 350 members, the post building needs to grow, said Commander Lonnie Myers.

“I think the crowdedness keeps people from coming,” Myers said. “It’s really congested in here. About five o’clock it gets hard to move around.”

Post 43 is a one-story brick building constructed about 1900. It began its life as a saloon and later become a furniture store. It’s not known with certainty when the American Legion moved in, but long-time post member Jon Marsh said 1926 might be a good guess. That was the year Post 43 incorporated, joining the national organization that formed shortly after World War I.

Veterans from every war since have come together in the place, sometimes just to have a beer and talk over old times, others to take part in organized events. In its current state, the post is a long narrow space with the bar up front and a conference room and kitchen area in the back. A second, smaller meeting room is in the basement.

Myers said much of the old kitchen equipment will be put to use in the new space, though a new hood is being built for the stove.

When completed, the extension will include a spacious dining and meeting area, a new, bigger kitchen area, a bandstand, and an Americans With Disabilities Act unisex restroom. Meyers said the addition will be decorated in a way that pays respect to people who serve their nation.

“We’ll have room to display all our memorabilia,” Myers said.

The project is made possible by grants, volunteer labor, discounted materials and services from a host of local contractors, and fundraising efforts by post members. The Wildhorse Foundation was a major supporter, contributing a $7,500 grant. Because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, the City of La Grande kicked in $2,200 to help the post comply with certain historical requirements.

Post members raised $3,000 with a raffle of a Model 94 Winchester donated by Bob Goss, and $1,000 with a yard sale. Myers said another yard sale is due to happen soon.

The post commander estimated that when everything is completed, the project will cost $70,000-$80,000. He said the post borrowed money from a bank to get the project started.

“We borrowed $50,000 and we’re getting that paid down,” he said. He added that the post plans to raise additional revenue by renting the completed space out to the public.

The post hired Don Driggers of Pine Eagle Construction to put up the shell of the addition, and Myers said the post is grateful for discounts Driggers offered.

“He gave us all kinds of breaks on that,” Myers said.

From there the project has been lifted by local contractors, many of them post members who are giving their labor free.  Joe Davis of Davis Electric is doing the wiring, Rich McDaniel the plumbing. Ray Crapo Construction installed windows and built the framing for the restroom, the kitchen and a closet. Bill Burns added wooden slats to the cyclone fence that surrounds a patio area adjacent to the addition, and J.D. Mosier is building the hood over the kitchen stove. Greg Williamson of G&V Supply has been generous with materials.

Myers said the Legion women’s auxiliary also has been instrumental in the project.

“Their mission is to support the Legion, and they do a lot,” he said.

Since the project is being completed by members in their spare time, the post hasn’t set a date for completion, though Myers said it likely will be some time this year.

For the people working on the project, the date can’t come soon enough.

“We’d like to see it done yesterday, so we can have our open house,” said Davis.