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La Mesa VFW Ship Must Vacate Longtime University Avenue Home

American Legion post offers lodging, but membership must decide between a new location or consolidation with another VFW, possibly in Lemon Grove.

La Mesa's VFW post, called a Ship, took on too much water in the December rains and has been ordered to abandon its longtime home at 7298 University Ave., its leader says. Deadline to move out of the hobbled building is Jan. 27.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Ship 1774 had planned to celebrate its 81st birthday Friday—it was chartered in January 1930—but damage from the Dec. 21 storm, including a boulder that landed on a billiards table, crashed the party.

The dirt bank behind the Ship gave way, causing severe damage. A rear wall was breached, but the trademark bar when members gather was left alone.

American Legion Post 282 has rushed to the rescue and invited the VFW—together with the Ladies Auxiliary and AMVETS Post 1775—to join them at their 8118 University Ave. location. The final decision rests with the VFW membership, set to vote at its general meeting Jan. 11.

"The American legion is large enough to house us all," Porath said. "Moving there will allow us to stay within the community of La Mesa and give us time to look for another facility or stay there on a permanent basis.  After all, we are all veterans and belong to veterans' organizations that do much the same work.

"I think it could be a workable situation that would require leadership of all our organizations."

December's damage occurred while several members, including VFW Capt. Jack Porath, were in the facility. Bartender Sandi Green said it sounded like a freight train.

"Thankfully, no one was hurt," Porath said. "We had been previously warned to stay away from the rear of the building and the immediate rear areas of the building near where the bank failed, and we have, like good soldiers, heeded that warning."

The entire building shook and it sounded like a clap of thunder immediately above the facility, according to Porath.

"The property manager was immediately contacted by myself," he said, "and he immediately dispatched a crew to perform immediate repairs so as to save as much as possible and prevent further damage."

It wasn't the first time the hillside slipped, according to the Porath.

"The landlord, via the property manager Hal Ryan, was aware of the current problem and was addressing the repairs via issuance of a Request for Proposals whereas contractors assess the situation and provide a remedy with associated costs," Porath said.  "However, the historic heavy rains came before the hillside could be properly fixed."

After the La Mesa Fire Department, the city's building inspector and an engineer assessed the damage, the city issued a stop-work order.

"I was told by the city inspector the reasons were liability to the city, safety concerns and because a permit was not obtained," Porath said. "However, in my opinion, this was an emergency and the city should not have stepped in so fast with such a drastic action."

With damage mounting, most of the Ship has been declared unusable, limiting the building to just 46 occupants. On Dec. 29, because of repair costs, the VFW's landlord delivered a Dec. 29 order to vacate, leaving the VFW with no choice but to move out by Jan. 27.

Porath declared an emergency and the VFW held a meeting to decide whether to consolidate with another VFW post or relocate to another facility. The unanimous decision was to save the ship, which allows the VFW to retain its charter and post number.

"I believe a consolidation would be heartbreaking to all of our members," Porath said. "We  ... put a lot of sweat and tears into the current facility. A majority of our members live in La Mesa, and I feel that many would not travel outside the area to another VFW when there is another veterans' organization located in the community of La Mesa.

"When you lose a community VFW and it goes to another community, then there becomes a void that is hard to fill." 

The local VFW has been at its current location since 1985. Before moving to La Mesa, it had been in downtown San Diego.

Although the American Legion move seems a win-win, other options have their advantages, Porath said.

"We are currently contemplating a move to another commercial facility in La Mesa, consolidation with Encanto Post 1512 or Lemon Grove Post 2082, and working with our property manager to allow us to return to our current location once the damage is fixed and the building is again habitable," he said.

The Encanto and Lemon Grove VFWs are in Lemon Grove.

"Our consolidation in that area will additionally strengthen that community," Porath said.  "We really do not want to leave the city of La Mesa, but financial and other considerations must be taken into account. The membership does not have an easy decision to make."

In the meantime, the VFW still plans to celebrate its 81st birthday this year. Porath said it will be difficult to leave behind its current location, which has been home to many good memories.

"The memories are the closeness of all of the members, the mutual support of the VFW and its Ladies Auxiliary, the support for one another, and the many community based programs we launched from that facility," he said. "The VFW is, after all, a community based forum that supports our veterans."

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