Los Altos veterans look to preserve hall with historical designation

Bruce Barton/Town Crier
Veterans William Bassett, left, and Ken Newman of American Legion Post 558 hope to preserve the American Legion Hall on First Street.

Members of the local American Legion are working with the city of Los Altos to secure a historical designation for the Legion’s 80-year-old building on First Street. Doing so would protect the structure from being sold and razed for redevelopment.

Legion Post 558 members, led by William Bassett of Los Altos, continue to hold meetings and events, and rent out space in the facility, located at 347 First St. The 3,920-square-foot American Legion Hall was built in 1940 by World War I veterans for approximately $3,300, according to Legion records.

Bassett said the city had approached Post 558 approximately 25 years ago about a historical designation for the building when city officials were undergoing a historical resource inventory.

“Unfortunately, the leadership at that time did not appreciate the importance of such a designation to the community, and the offer was not accepted,” Bassett wrote in his new application to the city.

Why now? Bassett said the Legion has been approached at least twice in recent years with offers to purchase the building and property.

“It’s the last thing we want,” said Bassett, a Vietnam War veteran. “We want to preserve this structure forever.”

A historical designation would require permission from the city for any exterior remodel, no matter who owns the property.

The structure, built on a cement foundation with wood framing, a pitched roof, exterior wood siding and lath and plaster on the interior, is similar to a “military-style structure,” as Bassett described it. Inside is a large gathering hall with natural wood, a vaulted ceiling and a stone fireplace.

Construction of the Legion Hall occurred approximately two years after the 1938 launch of Post 558. Early in its history, it served as space for citizens’ meetings that led to the incorporation of the city of Los Altos in 1952. The structure also has housed meetings for local youth programs, PTAs, the Red Cross, first aid and home defense presentations, and the local garden club.

Post 558 received a visit from former President Jimmy Carter, who made an appearance at the Legion Hall May 4, 2001.

Documenting history

Legion members said they hope to submit their completed application to the city by Friday, in time for the proposal to be heard at the Feb. 24 Los Altos Historical Commission meeting.

According to Jon Biggs, community development director, the report must be conducted by a professional with expertise in historical structures and include supporting documentation and evidence for a historical resource evaluation report. Under the requirements, a structure or property must be more than 50 years old and have “historic integrity” in the areas of design, setting, materials, workmanship and historical significance – defined as “events that have made a significant contribution to broad patterns of local or regional history.”

Biggs said the city provided the Legion with step-by-step instructions for determining its qualification as a historical resource.

“Once all the background information and supporting documentation are provided, the request can be scheduled for a meeting and the Historical Commission will consider the appropriate designations and/or recommendations,” he said.

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