The American Legion Hall still has a place in the hearts of Oyster Bay and some supporters willing to put themselves on record as wanting to preserve it.
David Lamb, president of the Main Street Association of Oyster Bay said the group is in favor of Robbie Hallock selling his property for the purpose of creating an assisted living facility but that the complex needs to accommodate, in some fashion, the American Legion Hall.
"It could be an asset to the complex as well as to the community," he said. "It is a suggestion in alignment with our philosophy of preservation. We think the hall is worthy of preservation," he said.
The provenance of the building is a clue to the importance of it. The family of former President Theodore Roosevelt was strongly involved in its creation, and it appears that Mrs. Quentin Roosevelt, the daughter-in-law of the namesake of the building, tried to save it for posterity: that, according to Norman Youngs, a descendant of one of the founding families of Oyster Bay.
Additionally, the Town of Oyster Bay Landmarks Preservation Commission has received an application from local resident Harold Buck, to consider making the American Legion building a town landmark. The commission next meets on March 30, but as yet, no agenda has been set, said a town spokesperson.
Oyster Bay Historian John Hammond has written about the American Legion building in his column Village Views, published in the Oyster Bay Guardian. On Dec. 20, 1996, he told of the long struggle the American Legion veterans had in their effort to fund raise for the building.
After a long unsuccessful effort - the cornerstone of the American Legion Hall was finally set on Memorial Day 1930, at noon, by Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt (the late president's wife) assisted by her grandson Quentin (husband of Frances Roosevelt). She was the only Gold Star mother at the post at that time, after the death of her son Quentin.
Mr. Hammond wrote:
"With the cornerstone in place, funds for the completion of the project more freely flowed and the building progressed rapidly during the summer of 1930. A committee headed by Dr. and Mrs. Derby, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, began seeking donations from the wealthy sections of the community and the response was so great that the plans to sell off half of the property were canceled. The project had now, finally become a community project. By the middle of July 1930 the project was far enough along that the first event was scheduled, a huge bazaar to benefit the building fund. The bazaar was held on August 9, 1930 and was the first event of any kind scheduled for the new building, although the building was not yet completed. The bazaar lasted for two weeks and at its conclusion on August 16th, a Kelvinator refrigerator was given away as a door prize.
"Over the next several months, many other events began to be scheduled for the new Legion building and by the spring of 1931 community dances became a regular Saturday night affair. On the evening of April 11, 1931 there was a particularly unusual dance and concert. The evening began with a concert by the Quentin Roosevelt Post Band from 9 to 10 p.m. followed by Carl Neilsen's Society Orchestra along with John DeJesu and his Futurists from 10 until 2 a.m."
The next chapter in the story of the American Legion in Oyster Bay is still to be written.
The Main Street Association expressed their opinion in a letter to Robbie Hallock, (with copies sent to the Oyster Bay Town Board members) that was read aloud at the March 16 meeting of the Oyster Bay Civic Association by Tom Kuehhas, director of the Oyster Bay Historical Society.
They hinged their comments on an executive order from Governor George Pataki creating a taskforce headed by Lieutenant Governor Mary Donohue to study community growth in New York State and to develop measures to assist those communities in implementing effective land development, preservation and rehabilitation strategies as they enter the 21st century.
Lt. Gov. Donohue, chair of the Quality Communities Task Force said there is grant money for the program for communities to increase their capacity to ensure effective planning for long-term community and regional vitality.
For their part, the Main Street Association board suggested that Mr. Hallock follow the Federal guidelines for Assisted Living Facilities concerning optimal size.
They asked that the developer integrate the in-house senior assisted living community with the greater Oyster Bay hamlet community in a way similar to any well designed hotel, e.g. shops, entertainment facility, restaurant, etc.
They asked them to address the needs of senior's quality of life by, for example, improved contact with younger generations by integrating uses that draw the community as a whole together. These uses may include a physical therapy center designed into the facility that includes a swimming pool.
They ask that an adaptive reuse of the American Legion building could serve as a location that provides entertainment for both the senior residents and the greater hamlet community.
"We are in favor of the development, but still it is appropriate for development and for a creative reuse in the context of the development. That would be good," said Mr. Lamb.
Another view, still aimed at saving the building, was expressed by Norman Youngs, a descendant of one of the founding families of Oyster Bay also thinks the American Legion Hall should be preserved.
"I think either the town should buy the whole thing and make a large parking lot and tear down the former Griffin garage and make a large parking lot there. As for the Hallock property, sell it to the Dodge dealer or something else.
"I know Frances Roosevelt, before she passed away tried to buy it (the Legion Hall) from Hallock.
"I was there with Ben Liz, and Hallock said no, he wanted to sell the whole works.
"I have nothing against Mr. Hallock," he added.
"I grew up at 88 Kellogg St. and as a kid I would fall asleep in the hammock on the porch listening to the American Legion band. My parents would let me sleep there the whole night. In those days you could trust the neighborhood.
"I remember when the Dr. Wicker Jackson house was torn down. It originally belonged to Mr. Burtis after whom Burtis Avenue was named. That house was torn down by Mr. Chamberlain (the former owner of Hallock Chevrolet). He made his money and skipped town.
"I hope the town will buy it, or some of the people in town who have money will. It was those boys down there (the veterans) who gave them what they have today," he said.