Location: 219 Legion Way SW
Local, State, and National registers; Wohleb; Women’s History; Popular Culture
|American Legion Hall 1950, Susan Parish collection, Southwest Regional Archives|
American Legion Hall today (2014), photo by Deb Ross
The national American Legion was founded in 1919, after World War I. At that time, local newspapers estimated there were about 1,000 eligible veterans in Thurston County. They met in temporary locations for a time, and began raising funds for a permanent building in late 1920 or early 1921, securing this location at 6th (now Legion) and Water Street. The plan was for an auditorium and meeting place, where events could be held to attract the whole community, not just members of the Legion. Fundraising was slow until other organizations joined in the effort, notably the Rotarians and women’s organizations, who mobilized scores of fundraisers to solicit donations from schoolchildren, veterans, businesses and social organizations. Funds were deemed sufficient in mid-1921 to begin construction. The design for this relatively unadorned building was the work of Joseph Wohleb, who was reaching the peak of his influence in downtown Olympia and nearby residential neighborhoods.
The building was located in a solidly industrial neighborhood, surrounded by a junk store, a coke (coal) supplier, the railroad tunnel and track on Seventh Avenue, and houseboats across the street on the Deschutes Estuary. Some fundraisers, indeed, expressed concern about the “remoteness” of the location: even though it was only two blocks from Main Street (Capitol Way), the neighborhood was decidedly sketchy. Nevertheless, the building became an instant success from the day it opened on Armistice Day 1921, holding dances, boxing matches, Inaugural Balls, and other social activities and entertainment. It also hosted the National Guard, the Post Office, and a skating rink over the years. The American Legion band, formed here in 1924, has been highly ranked nationally since its inception and continues to perform 25-30 times a year.
The building is currently occupied by retail establishments and studios, after the American Legion vacated the building in 1999.
Due to its historical and architectural importance, the building is on the National as well as state and local registers. It is just outside the boundaries of the National Historic Downtown District. It anchors the western end of Legion Way, which was renamed in 1927, in honor of the Legion (see also Legion Way Trees)
YouTube video filmed at this location, about Women in World War I