VFW weighs sale of its historic home

EVERETT — Expenses are up and membership is down.

Everett’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Old Guard Post 2100 may have to sell its building.

The post, chartered in 1931, built its brick headquarters on Oakes Avenue shortly after World War II. The two-story building includes a lounge, a dance floor, meeting rooms, a storage attic and a veterans services desk. It also is the current home of the Seattle Veterans Museum.

At its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26, VFW members plan to vote on whether to sell the building and its parking lot, which together have an assessed value of about $1.2 million.

Post 2100 Commander Don Wischmann, a Navy veteran, hopes to find a less expensive home for the Old Guard.

“Our building is paid for, but its age makes it somewhat difficult to maintain. It’s the rising costs of operation and the taxes,” Wischmann said. “Our income is down because the older members are dying off. We had 22 who passed away this summer alone.”

Even though veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including those still on active duty and those in the reserves, have joined the post, the membership roll is shorter than in past years.

Nationally, the Veterans of Foreign Wars has seen a decline in the total number of its posts, said spokeswoman Randi Law at the VFW’s national headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.

“We’ve seen a steady decline over the last several years, however, that decline cannot be attributed solely to financial difficulties,” Law said.

The rise of Internet connections has meant that some posts operate mostly online and no longer need a permanent building, she said.

“And though we are losing our older veterans, it’s inaccurate to suggest veterans of the modern era are not joining,” Law said. “Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan make up about 10 percent of our overall membership. This is a larger group than any previous war.”

Some VFW posts have consolidated or have closed their doors and hold meetings at other places, Law said.

For VFW Old Guard Post 2100, it’s definitely not a matter of disbanding, Wischmann said.

“We just need a more economical place in which to operate.”

The hope is that, if the building sells, the post will find a place to rent or to buy in the downtown area, with room for a lounge and dance floor, a kitchen and meeting room, Wischmann said. The idea is that the veterans services desk and the museum would move with the post, he said.

Todd Crooks, museum director, said he is waiting to hear what the VFW post plans to do. The museum includes uniforms, combat gear, letters from the front lines and other artifacts from each branch of the military and most U.S. wars. Unable to pay rent at its former space at the Seattle Center, the nonprofit museum was saved from a stuffed storage unit by the Everett VFW post, which offered the space earlier this year.

VFW chaplain Earl Stephens, who was instrumental in inviting the museum to Everett, said he is anxious that the museum stay in Everett. The museum is in the process of renaming itself the Veterans Heritage Museum.

“Our need is to have a permanent home,” Crooks said. “Because we don’t know if we can move with the post, I have sent letters to the city of Everett and Snohomish County asking for help. Perhaps our museum would be a good addition to the military aviation museums up at Paine Field.”

Wischmann tends bar in the post’s lounge during lunch time a few days a week. Some of the regulars and many of the members are sad about the potential sale and move, he said.

“It’s pretty emotional for those who have attachments to the building,” Wischmann said. “Most people would like to stay, but most understand that we really can’t. It’s a cool old building, and we have had some interest in its sale.”

The post also looked at other ways to stay put, he said.

“We even thought about getting the building on the National Register of Historic Places, which would have helped with taxes and the ability to get grants to fix it up, but we were told that building didn’t qualify.”

In the heyday of veterans organizations — the 1950s through the 1970s — VFW Post 2100 hosted dances, bingo games and dinners, he said.

“I’ve been told that there were nights when a person could not find a place to sit,” Wischmann said.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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