Commander battles to save post, fight sale

By Matt Porter

June 12, 2013 Updated Jun 13, 2013 at 6:22 PM EDT

Johnson City, NY (WBNG Binghamton) UPDATE June 13, 2013: Legion votes to sell historic building to Marchuska Construction Company for $5,000. Plans are to demolish the building and build a single-story office building.

The commander of the American Legion Post 758 says the ongoing sale of their decrepit 90-year-old building isn't legal.

The post's Legion Commander Thomas Brenchley said Wednesday he is investigating the negotiation, which has been going on for nearly a year. He also said he intends to lay out a plan to try and save the aging building.

In February 2012, the Post entered into a contract to sell the Main Street mainstay to Marchuska Brothers Construction.

The possible sale has drawn the ire of Post members. However, just 18 of the more than 100 members participated in the vote to sell the building.

The sale is being coordinated by the post's corporation president.

Most legions split their non-profit functions from their business functions by forming a corporation.

Ron Harlost serves as the corporation's president that oversees the post's liquor license and handles any other costs, including maintenance.

However, the American Legion maintains the deed in the hands of the legion commander.

Brenchley said handling deeds is the responsibility of the non-profit leadership, not its corporation. That means, he, not Harlost, should be in charge of any sale.

The sale has already been delayed because of concerns about asbestos contamination in the building. That issue came up after items inside the building were auctioned off.

Saving the old to bring in the new

Post 758 stands as one of the few remaining turn-of-the-century buildings in Johnson City.

It stands three stories, its concrete columns show wear as small holes have formed in the underside of its ornate cornice.

Brenchley said the building deserves to be fixed, rather than abandoned.

"It's kind of an icon here in the community," Brenchley said. "To build today you would not be able to replace a building with this much architectural character."

He said the community is interested in helping raise money to preserve the building's history.

But corporation president Harlost said he doesn't believe nearly enough money can be raised to save the building.

He said the maintenance on the building has long been out of hand.

"I almost want to say it would be impossible to bring that back to life," Harlost said.

He said interest in saving the building only came out after the sale began.

Harlost said there had been plenty of notice about plans to sell.

"As soon as we signed a contract with the buyer," he said, "Everybody started coming forwards. Well, it's too late then, it's too late then."

But legion commander Brenchley said it's not too late.

He said the delay in the sale brought a resurgence in interest.

He said as recent as Memorial Day, local government leaders approached him with help.

Richard H. Miller II, who also serves as a judge for Johnson City, said he'd like to see the Post stay where it is. His father is a veteran.

Brenchley also said he has private sources willing to donate time and money.

He's had offers from BOCES students and other church groups to provide free labor.

He said he wants to rebuild and redesign to attract younger veterans, including adding a gym.

"This is a chance for us if we start from ground zero with this building, and pretty much start anew," he said, "We can make it more of a place that fits the model of what the veterans want to see in their post."

He also says it's important to remember history. The building was gifted by George F. Johnson in honor of his father Frank A. Johnson, a veteran.

"There's so few buildings left," he said, "That the Johnson's had built and given to the community."

Blocks away stands a church erected for Sarah Jane Johnson, wife of Frank Johnson.

The steeple looks down at the pillars built in honor of her husband, but for how much longer is unknown.

If you want to help

Brenchley says they need help. He's encouraging any war veterans in Johnson City who want to join the post to contact him.

If you aren't a veteran, but would like to help the legion rebuild by providing donations of time, money, or supplies to also contact him.

Thomas Brenchley can be reached at thomasb@stny.rr.com or 607-797-8470.