American Legion starts drive to restore building as community hub

PORT TOWNSEND — A theater and concert hall with state-of-the-art lighting and sound.

A meeting space that seats 450 people.

A community kitchen, indoor/outdoor space for the farmers market, a base camp for film companies and a small-business incubator.

Add plenty of parking, and you have a civic wish list for downtown Port Townsend.

Wishes that are one step closer to reality because the space already exists.

“This is the most centrally located place,” says Michael Yazel.

“The dream is to make it a more desirable venue.”

Restoration drive

Yazel is an Army veteran, carpenter and musician who organizes dances at the American Legion Hall during the winter to raise money for local charities.

Now he is leading an effort to restore the hall to its original prominence in the heart of the community.

“I noticed this flurry of activity in this part of town — the city hall annex and restoration, the Northwest Maritime Center project, the new skateboard park, plans for the Landfall Restaurant and Point Hudson,” Yazel says.

“With all that activity that is going on around it, the legion hall needs to be included.”

Originally built during World War II, the legion hall, at the corner of Water and Monroe streets, started life as a USO hall, one of many throughout the country.

Most have been torn or burned down, according to Steve Emery, a restoration committee member who is researching the building’s history.

The ones that are left are considered rare and are being declared national historic landmarks, Emery says.

“I was told that this building may be one of 26 left in the United States,” Emery says.

“It may be one of the last USO buildings in the state of Washington.”

Serious upgrades needed

But the hall needs serious upgrading, especially the wiring, which is the original cloth-wrapped aluminum that doomed its brothers to the flames, Emery says.

The heating system is also a priority, according to Adam Gaikowski, post commander.

Last week, the legion post voted unanimously to support a restoration effort, Gaikowski says, which has been talked about for years.

“We’ve been struggling financially, but now we’re picking up membership and got the ball rolling,” Gaikowski says.

“We’re trying to get the hall fixed up — painting, new doors and so on. It was getting shabby.”

But Yazel would like to see more than cosmetic changes. He visualizes a comprehensive upgrade of the building to bring it into the 21st century.

That includes making the hall into a multi-purpose space for theater, meetings and other community events.

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