Fairhope’s American Legion Post 199: Restoring a historic landmark and veteran hub

By MELANIE LECROY
Lifestyle Editor
melanie@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 6/11/24

On the bluff in Fairhope sits a historic building that has had many lives but for the past 61 years has been a beacon to the community's veterans. American Legion Post 199 added a new mission just …

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Fairhope’s American Legion Post 199: Restoring a historic landmark and veteran hub

Posted

On the bluff in Fairhope sits a historic building that has had many lives but for the past 61 years has been a beacon to the community's veterans.

American Legion Post 199 added a new mission just after Hurricane Sally in 2020, and now they need the community's help. The storm took a toll on Baldwin County and the surrounding areas. While much of the damage has been repaired, there are still some areas where you will see blue tarps on roofs. Fairhope's American Legion is still in the fundraising phase for their project, but for good reason.

The American Legion building suffered roof punctures after several trees fell. The 24 hours of driving wind and rain caused catastrophic water intrusion, which rendered the building unusable. Repairs were made to stop further damage while the post's executive committee explored options.

Then, membership was given options to vote on: tear down the building and build a new one or retain the original building and repair and remodel it.

"Ultimately, they decided for the retention of the building," Post Commander Gerry Garcia said. "They understood the potential timeframe and the fundraising required. At that time, we were thinking it would be in the ballpark around $3 million. The impact of Hurricane Sally and COVID-19 provided a massive increase in overhead and cost for building materials."

Why Save It?

Garcia said tearing the building down probably would have been the easier choice, but it has historical significance not only to the American Legion but to Fairhope.

The original building was constructed in 1913 as a retreat for the Mobile Business Women's Club called "Pine Needle." The building originally had wrap-around porches that over the years were closed in. Garcia said the building also served as a private home before being deeded to the American Legion in 1963. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.

Garcia said once the membership decided to remodel the original building, he and the executive board went about finding the best path forward. The first step was to find an architectural firm that could realize the vision.

"We ended up electing Watershed here in Fairhope because of their expertise and experience remodeling historic buildings," Garcia said.

He walked to a corner in the post canteen where the renderings of the future building sit. Hanging just above the rendering is a photo of the building in the 1920s, which served as the inspiration.

"You can see how heavily the building was modified to optimize the utilization. Everything was closed in, especially the second floor. They had sleeping porches and such," Garcia said. "The direction that we provided to Rebecca (Bryant, principal architect, Watershed) was we want to go ahead and regain some of the original details and design of the original building."

When the building was closed, many of the regular membership events could no longer happen. Garcia said a large part of the membership, the elderly veterans, lost an important weekly event, Monday Night Mess. While the post has a temporary canteen behind the old building, it is too small to hold the event.

Fundraising Efforts

The fundraising goal is a hefty one — $5.8 million — but the membership is working to make it happen in many different ways. Garcia explained there is a challenge for each member to raise $1,000 in donations that is ongoing. With a membership of over 600, that would make a big impact.

Another angle to fundraising is through grants. Garcia said there is now a small group taking on grant writing led by Senior Vice Commander Michael Sumrall. So far, grant writing has secured $15,500 from the Alabama Historical Commission Grant and a $100,000 grant from Community Capital Fund.

A Place for the Community

Fairhope American Legion Post 199 has become a place for the community. The once membership-only club is now open to the public during business hours. The beach area and Tiki Bar are a hot spot for locals to enjoy live music and take in a Fairhope sunset.

The Tiki Bar at American Legion Post 199.
The Tiki Bar at American Legion Post 199.

After Hurricane Sally, the executive committee and membership formed the American Legion Emergency Response Team, ALERT. Garcia said the membership has such a wide range of skills accumulated through their military service that are helpful. ALERT is now imbedded with Baldwin County Emergency Response and coordinates disaster relief collection and provides support for local and regional disasters.

Part of the strategic vision for the post, once the building is complete, is to not only support the current membership and community but to expand its offerings. One of the visions that is near and dear to Garcia is the plan to increase involvement in veteran suicide prevention. The current statistic is each day, 22 veterans commit suicide in the U.S.

"We're looking for means or mechanisms to assist abating that milestone statistic," Garcia said. "The utilization for the second floor is not only as an event hosting facility but also to host suicide prevention clinics, suicide counseling and rehabilitation of our veterans from homelessness."

Other plans for the future facility include hosting veteran job placement fairs, hosting youth activities to promote solid citizenship and increase support for community fundraising activities. The facility would also be available as an event venue.

The revitalization of this historic Fairhope landmark will take more time, but the American Legion Post 199 membership has a plan and solid leadership. To learn more about how you can help, visit www.easternshorepost199.com.

The pier at American Legion Post 199.
The pier at American Legion Post 199.