Pittsfield American Legion, VFW posts now sharing common quarters

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PITTSFIELD The members of American Legion Post 68 have joined their comrades in Pittsfield's Veterans of Foreign Wars Post at a new, much-smaller location, at 174 Elm St.

Post 68 made the move last month, when Mill Town Capital of Pittsfield purchased the post's former legion hall at 41 Wendell Ave. for $265,000, according to documents filed at the Middle Berkshire Registry of Deeds. VFW Post 448, which had been sharing the legion hall on Wendell Avenue with Post 68, had moved to the Elm Street location last year.

The legion had put its hall on the market several months ago but still had been holding meetings there.

The legion building, constructed in 1972, had been offered at $485,000, according to a real estate listing that was posted last summer. The asking price dropped to $400,000. before falling further The final sale price is only $15,000 more than what it originally cost to build the structure, according to Eagle archives.

Post 68 is a separate entity from Pittsfield American Legion Inc., the corporation that owned the building, according to Tom Landry, the post's adjutant commander.

Mill Town Capital is a private investment fund that owns several Pittsfield properties, including multiple parcels on North and Tyler streets. Tim Burke, Mill Town's managing director, declined to say what the firm plans to do with the property. The new ownership entity is 41 Wendell RE LLC, a subsidiary of Mill Town Capital.

The Wendell Street property had been owned by the legion since 1949, when the group purchased the former White Tree Club, according to Eagle archives. The club, built as a private residence in 1870, was demolished when the legion built its own hall on the property 48 years ago.

The city of Pittsfield had flirted with buying the property in the late 1960s before the legion built its new hall there. Post 68 turned down a $60,000 offer for the property in 1968.

Post 68 and Post 448 have been affected by declining membership, which is why both veterans organizations have sold their former buildings. Post 448 sold its former hall on Linden Street to Barrington Stage Company in 2012, after BSC leased that space for four years. That building, now known as the Lee and Sydelle Blatt Performing Arts Center, is slightly older than the legion hall, having opened on New Year's Eve in 1970.

Although the legion hall contained a bar, Rebecca Tanner, Post 68's current commander, told The Eagle last summer that the group had decided to put the hall on the market because it no longer was financially viable to keep it. Post 68 wasn't making enough from the hall's bar to cover the finances on the building, Landry said.

"We just decided that it was better for us to let the building go rather than have it," Tanner said Monday. "The whole thing wasn't an asset anymore. ... When it becomes a deficit and you're on the losing end of it, you can't really keep it up."

There is a stark contrast in size between the two buildings on Wendell Avenue and Elm Street. The legion hall is 31,428 square feet. The Elm Street property, which was built in 1910, is zoned for commercial and residential use and contains a multiuse office that has 2,920 square feet, according to records in the city assessor's office.

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The VFW's former hall on Linden Street contains 12,602 square feet.

Post 68 was organized in 1919, and Landry said membership is increasing slightly. Post 68 finished fiscal 2019, which ended June 30, with 212 members. Landry believes that the post has 206 members now.

"We're hopeful that we'll get it to 100 percent," Landry said, referring to the 212 figure.

At issue is a dearth of younger members to replace the older members when they die.

"We've had 13 pass since June," Landry said.

But, that's not as bad as it used to be.

"There was a period eight to 10 years ago when we were losing 40 a year when we had 700 members," Landry said. "That's the problem with attrition when you're trying to replace those that we're losing."

Last summer, Tanner said, Post 68 was hoping that military veterans from more recent wars, such as the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, would join to help bump up the numbers.

"They're afraid" to join, Tanner said at the time. "You know how Vietnam vets were stigmatized when they came back. ... When we come back to civilian life, it takes a while to acclimate back into it."

Tanner said Post 68's current members still are active in the community.

"We keep telling people that even if we don't have a bar, we're still an active legion," she said. "We're in the community taking care of vets and their families, and being out there and active helping with scholarships for kids."

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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