Phoenix Could Tear Down Arizona’s First American Legion Post

By Christina Estes
Published: Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 8:15am
Updated: Thursday, June 6, 2019 - 8:14am

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flag at half staff in front of buidling
Christina Estes/KJZZ
The American flag flying at half staff on June 4, 2019, at American Legion Post 1 in Phoenix.

Luke-Greenway American Legion Post 1 is making plans to celebrate 100 years in its original Phoenix location. But it's unlikely the post will mark 101 years at the same spot.

On the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue and Polk Street sits Arizona's oldest American Legion Post. In 1919, it became one of the first posts chartered in the United States. In 1920, a charter member deeded the land to Phoenix in exchange for the post getting a 99-year lease. Now, the city's looking to sell.

At this stage, the idea is to tear down all or most of the Post's original home — an idea that upsets historic preservationists.

"A domino effect in our neighborhood is critical," said Beatrice Moore with Grand Avenue Arts and Preservation. "You start putting new construction inside our neighborhood, then you’re going to have more developers coming in who see that activity, see the city tearing down a historic building and then they're going to want to come in and do more of the same."

During Tuesday's Planning and Economic Development Subcommittee, staff said the building would require a lot of work to gain official historic status. And if it gets historic designation, there would be limits on what can happen around it. For example, the views in the front, back and one side could not be obstructed. The one side where you could build would reportedly be pretty restricted. In a nutshell, Phoenix's economic development director said there's no market for something like that. No developer is going to pump in millions unless they can build something that's going to make them millions.

Patrick Mays, Post 1's former commander, lives in a historic neighborhood downtown and told the subcommittee he joined Post 1 nine years ago because of its historic nature. When he learned the 99-year lease was within a few years of expiring, Mays said he set a goal to secure a long-term extension.

"Initial efforts to obtain that lease extension were flatly denied," he said. "The prevailing attitude at that time was, 'Well, they won't throw us out. We're veterans, right?' That was a foolhardy position to take, it really was, and I decided I wanted to take initiative to try to come with a collaborative and cooperative solution along with the city."

front of building with porch
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Front porch at Luke-Greenway American Legion Post 1 Arizona in Phoenix on June 4, 2019.

For about three years, Mays and others have been working with the city on ways to include veterans in the redevelopment of their home.

"One of the things we heard over and over again is housing, affordable housing, that's one of the things they're looking for and services," Councilman Michael Nowakowski said.

Before the city hangs a 'for sale' sign on the 1.68 acre site, the council must approve. The Economic Development Department is working on a request for proposals (RFP). It would require a few things as a result of input from the American Legion Post and some council members.

Bidders for a mixed-use development must provide at least 3,000 square feet for veterans' support services and, if there's housing, they must set aside at least 30 percent below market rate with preference given to lower income veterans. Also, bidders would be encouraged or possibly required — the language has to be determined — to analyze the building to find ways of saving some elements and incorporating them into the new project.

"The fact that the city has collaborated with the American Legion, wanting to know what our needs are and included these as items as part of the RFP, is a demonstration of their willingness to be at the forefront of the many issues facing veterans today and to work collectively towards a solution," Mays said.

frank luke sign on wall
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Luke-Greenway American Legion Post 1 was originally named as a tribute to Arizona's Frank Luke Jr., a U.S. Army Air Service fighter pilot in World War I.

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