Old Savannah: Elevated Station

Interior of the American Legion Ballroom, 1954.

Designed by notable architect Hyman Wallace Witcover and completed in 1914—when the Chatham Artillery was still a horse-drawn calvary unit—American Legion Post 135 covers nearly a full city block at the south end of Forsyth Park.

In January 1942, the storied Mighty Eighth Air Force was founded here, and four years later the building was purchased by the American Legion, serving as a gathering spot, watering hole and support system for U.S. war veterans ever since.

“All these shops on Park Avenue were stables,” explains former Vietnam War helicopter pilot and retired U.S. Army Col., Richard Noel, pointing out the fort-like ramparts that crown each of the blond-bricked structures at the intersection of Park and Bull streets. “The medallions up above had the horses’ names and the NCOs. [Forsyth Park] was where they exercised their horses and fired their weapons.”

Now, fine-dining restaurant Local 11Ten moors the southernmost corner of the complex, while Brighter Day Natural Foods Market, the Sentient Bean and Le Chai Galerie du Vin occupy those former stables on the northern perimeter. As it has for more than seven decades, American Legion Post 135 anchors the middle of the complex, drawing patrons up a short flight of stairs flanked by petite replicas of cast-iron cannons for a burger at Betty Bombers or an ice-cold can of PBR from the bar. (That bar, rebuilt earlier this year by Scott Williams, a SCAD alumnus and commander of Sons of the American Legion Officers, features 440 patches from legionnaires’ uniforms encased in acrylic.)

Back to those stairs, though—the building’s historic designation exempts it from mandatory compliance with the American with Disabilities Act, making it difficult for Post 135 to host the patrons who need it most: local aging and wounded veterans of every recognized U.S. combat action since World War II.

The construction of an annex to house an elevator and entrance foyer—dubbed Operation Lift Up—is estimated to cost $450,000, of which $90,000 has been raised to date. In one stroke, this annex would accomplish Post 135’s dual goals of assisting veterans and giving back to the community, granting full building access to wheelchair-bound, disabled or injured veterans and patrons, as well as caterers, bands, and performers. Increased access—especially to the grand ballroom on the second floor—could mean fundraisers, weddings and other celebrations, providing a revenue stream for Post 135 to direct back into its veterans’ service programs.

For one of Savannah’s most cherished landmarks, the time has come to lend a hand—and a lift.

More from Amy Paige Condon

Easy Being Green

Mad for mâche? Feverish over frisée? The only cure is summer’s kaleidoscope of...
Read More