The vets are history - VFW Hall earns state historical status; national register sought

By Ruth Longoria

One thing on Mercer Island hasn't changed much in the past 83 years, well, with the exception of a few moniker evolutions.

The Keewaydin Clubhouse at 1836 72nd Ave. S.E. was also known as the home of the Mercer Island Community Club after its first year. It has been the VFW Post No. 5760 since 1966.

For its valiant history of service to the community -- and with some hard work from some of its staunchest supporters -- the Keewaydin Clubhouse reached state historical status last week, and is on its way to national recognition as well.

``I'm delighted that the VFW post was able to convince the state heritage registry that the clubhouse belongs on the registry,'' said Rich Conrad, Mercer Island City Manager. ``I'm confident that we'll end up on the national registry as well. This is a great first for Mercer Island.''

Despite what many view as historical landmarks on the Island -- such as the Roanoke Inn Tavern across the street from the VFW Hall, and the East Seattle School built in 1914 and currently used by the Boys & Girls Club -- the Keewaydin Clubhouse is the first building on the Island to gain historical recognition from the Washington Heritage Register.

That's in part because gaining historical recognition takes a lot of work, said Phil Flash, 86, co-president of the Mercer Island Historical Society.

The year was 1922. The Island population was about 2,500 and talk was centered around the need of a bridge off the Island and plans for the newly constructed community center, the Keewaydin Clubhouse. The clubhouse was built with mainly volunteer labor who, during a one-day, July 1, work party, hauled the 60,000 feet of lumber and 58,000 shingles up the steep slope from a barge that carried the building materials from Seattle.

Flash forward to the present. The Island population is nearly 10 times larger -- at 22,036, according to the 2000 U.S. census -- a lot of talk on the Island is of Sound Transit's plans for mass transit across the Interstate 90 bridge, and there's anticipation of the city's $12.4 million Mercer View Community Center.

A lot has changed in 83 years. And, a lot is the same, Flash found when he began reading minutes of Island community meetings held in the early 1920s. And, though the minutes didn't center on any drastic changes, such as with the new Town Center development, Islanders then and Islanders now had the same basic concerns.

``Back then there wasn't an Island city council, they had community clubs, but it wasn't too different than then what's going on now,'' he said. ``Maybe not as big of concerns, but they talked about the same problems, water, transportation and roads. Nothing too different from now really.''

Flash said he's thrilled that his work on the project -- which included researching the clubhouse minutes of 1922 to help discern the club's usefulness to the community and the state -- was helpful in collecting the necessary documentation for historical recognition.

But, he said, credit for the clubhouse's new status is due primarily to one man: retired Col. Carl Lind, the former post commander.

``These things (working toward historical recognition) are not easy, it takes perseverance, time, and dedication to go through all the necessary steps involved in this,'' Flash said. ``Carl has a warm feeling for the significance and importance of history. He's what made this all come together; we need more people like him.''

Lind, 76, of Olympia, was commander of the post from 1984 to 1985. Although he no longer lives on the Island, he's a lifetime member of the post. He's been the driving force behind the pursuit of historical recognition for the past year-and-a-half, but he really wasn't the only crusader when the quest began.

Current VFW post commander Michael Cero worked with Lind until Cero was called into active duty in Iraq and handed the reins over to Lind. Cero and Lind started the process because they hope to gain national historic recognition, which would make the post eligible for grants for much needed repairs to the old structure.

In a recent walk-through of the facility, Lind and post members Jerry Gribble, 74, and Jaye Thompson, 86, pointed out some of the beauty of the Colonial Revival-style building, including a spectacular stone fireplace in the massive main room and a wall of windows looking out toward Lake Washington on what was once a porch.

But they also mentioned the aging roof, which has a good share of moss atop it, and the hit-and-miss painted, torn-in-places corrugated plastic skirting around the post and beam foundation. In the kitchen area, tile floors are cracked and need replacing, as does much of the carpeted areas.

Thompson said it would be nice to have a wheelchair ramp on the southern entrance and revisions made to the women's bathroom to make it wheelchair-accessible.

Gaining state recognition is the first step toward preserving the Island's beloved Keewaydin Clubhouse. As well as being an honor for those involved in the process, there are a slew of benefits as mentioned in a congratulatory letter from Dr. Allyson Brooks, state historic preservation officer.

``Benefits of State and National Register listing include potential tax credits, property tax deductions and code waivers to protect the integrity of the source. Listing of a property does not impose federal or state restrictive covenants or easements nor will it result in a taking. However, listing in the National Register of Historic Places and/or the Washington Heritage Register does assure protective review of a property should a federal or state action have a potential adverse effect to the property's historic values,'' Brooks wrote.

Shelley Bolser, a Mercer Island city planner, was instrumental in leading Lind through the lengthy but necessary steps to gain City Council approval for the project, which was imperative in order for the clubhouse to go on to the state process in Spokane last week. Bolser said she's delighted Lind's project has fared so well this far.

``I'll be glad when it reaches national status though,'' she said. ``Because then it will be eligible for funds to do the necessary repairs. And, that will really be great.''

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