Patrick Robinson
The former West Seattle American Legion Hall is becoming the West Seattle Veterans Center. It is being remodeled internally, with upgrades to the main hall, the construction of a new lounge, restaurant, and card room and a refocusing of its purpose to be an outreach and resource center for the more than 134,000 veterans who live and work in King County.

SLIDESHOW:American Legion Hall is becoming West Seattle Veterans Center; Remodeled facility still needs $20,000 to complete the job

A West Seattle landmark, the American Legion Hall at 3618 SW Alaska Street is being completely re-imagined and remodeled with a very clear vision aimed at being a primary resource for veterans in our area. It is being renamed too as the West Seattle Veterans Center (WSVC). Legion Post 160 is still based there but the mission is being expanded to make the location useful to all veterans and their families plus offer a performance, event and meeting space for the public. It's an ambitious four stage plan being led by the new Legion Commander, Dr. Don Michael Bradford.

Bradford, an Air Force veteran himself who served in four conflicts during his 30 year career got involved when he paid a visit to the hall a few months ago after visiting a West Seattle client. His interest led them to ask if he wanted to be Commander. He agreed on one condition. That he be allowed to remake and update the facility, modernizing it and updating its purpose. Bradford whose extensive background includes service in multiple nations (including a stint as commander of the base on Okinawa) is the CEO of Secured Assurance LLC a cyber security firm but said he plans to, "devote the rest of my days to veterans."

"We're the only American Legion that has property in Seattle," Bradford explained, "everybody else rents, so it doesn't make sense to let our most valuable asset not be taken care of. I'm most concerned about being a member of the community. I've met some of the local businesses and our neighbors here including the Fire Department."

Bradford explained that King County is home to 134,000 veterans and yet there's no military base here. The closest ones are at Bangor and Bremerton in Kitsap County and Joint Base Lewis/McChord in Pierce County. "Historically 30% to 40% of veterans stay near their discharge point. They are here for the jobs because they have the education and the training."

"That's why this door is going to be open, so when young folks need help we can provide it." By help he means everything from counseling, to financial assistance. "The American Legion has money, the Washington Department of Veteran Affairs has money and there's the local agency, King County Veteran's Assistance. If they don't know where these places are we can guide them. We will have a computer for their use and five days a week we will have Veterans Service Officers guiding people in their needs." That will include veterans who want to get into business, as some of those now working to remodel the facility already have.

Work being done in phases

The first phase was to repaint and rename the main meeting and entertainment area of the 85 year old building. It was once the home of the Haller School but was sold "for $150 as two buildings and then put together," said Bradford. NOTE: The definitive West Seattle History we published in 1988, West Side Story, talks about the school. The proper-name index for the book prepared by John Kelly and the late Jackie Kelly, indicates references to Haller School on pages 21, 24, 31, 132-134, 136, 180, 183 and 260.

The process has taken 93 days so far and more than six coats of stain resistant paint.

Pershing Hall is the new name for a public event space

Now dubbed Pershing Hall, the former main event space (in honor of General John J. Pershing an Army General who led the expeditionary forces in World War I) is available for rent and open to the public. In fact its first event is this weekend when bands Something Fierce and MER will be the first music performers there since the renovation began.The room can accommodate 200 people. It's also an art venue for veterans where on a two month rotation their work can be displayed for free. The Center will charge a small percentage for works sold. That means the WSVC is also part of the monthly West Seattle Artwalk too.

Coming up in February is their open house Superbowl party for veterans with a 100 inch video projection screen.

Phase 2 is the construction in the eastern portion of the building of the Speakeasy Bar and the Napolean Italian Cafe. Those areas will have booth and table seating. While normally open only to veterans, and their families and friends, these two areas will be open to those attending events in the other side of the building. It will feature a family area and an over 21 area and even a card room. The kitchen is being extensively remodeled made twice its size with some new fixtures and appliances.

They need the help of donors

All this of course costs money and Bradford has put some of his own and the Legion's money into the effort but is now actively seeking donations in the amount of "about $20,000" to finish the bar and cafe properly. They are a 501 c (3) non-profit organization so donations (they accept checks) are tax deductible.

Phase 3 will involve remodeling the basement, where the bar has been for decades, to convert it to offices and meeting spaces. Phase 4 will be a revamp of the exterior with new signage and landscaping.

"The people at the VFW Hall across the street are thinking about selling their building so they would meet here too," Bradford said. He's open to any community group that wants to do outreach and needs a facility to stage events.

Will the landmark cannon stay?

One question the center is still not certain about is the iconic (and local landmark) World War I cannon that sits out front. The center needs handicapped parking and with the recent changes on Alaska Street involving transit and bike lanes, some of the parking has been lost in any case. There's a potential that the Army museum could take the weapon but nothing has been discussed on this issue yet.

Among the other changes made to the building (and some yet to be added) are new ADA compliant bathrooms, new couches in the foyer, new double doors replacing the current four door arrangement, and even an ATM machine since it is a cash bar. Bradford emphasizes however that, "this is not a bar as a drinking establishment. It's a bar that's part of an outreach to the community and veterans."

The timeline to get the building ready for action (meaning the bar and restaurant need to be completed) is tight. Their first big event in the whole building is set for November 10 for a spaghetti dinner for veterans.

If you'd like to donate and help them complete the restaurant and lounge part of the project please send a check in any amount to West Seattle Veterans Center 3618 SW Alaska Street, Seattle WA 98126.

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