As VFW building demolished, memories live onApril 9, 2019
By ALLEN LAMAN
JASPER — Before an excavator claw sunk its teeth into the former Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 673 building and chewed apart the long-standing structure, Post Commander Dan Beck wandered around the empty establishment’s insides. And he remembered.
For a long time, the sprawling Newton Street mainstay housed the second-largest VFW post in Indiana — complete with a hardwood, maple dance floor, a full kitchen and a sizeable bar area.
Monday afternoon, those abandoned rooms were heaped into a pile of rubble.
“I was at the bar this morning and I said, ‘I want a Miller Lite,’” Beck recalled with a smile, shortly before the talon sliced through the aluminum siding and began smashing the framework to the ground. “Nobody came.”
The local club sold the building in late 2017 but continued operating inside its walls until earlier this year. In January, the group moved its operations to the basement of the Ewing Properties space that was formerly home to the Polo Room.
The current owner of the old VFW building requested his name not be included in this story. He explained in a text message that there are no plans for the site at this time, but added that the building needed to come down.
The club relocated from the aging edifice because it had poor insulation — resulting in expensive utility fees — and was also plagued with a high cost of maintenance.
Prior to VFW ownership, it housed the Miami Garden, which Beck described as a speakeasy during the prohibition era that “had some of the finest moonshine that you could get anywhere.” He estimated that the oldest parts of the structure were constructed around 1915. The VFW purchased it about three decades later.
The mid-1960s were the Jasper organization’s heyday, as membership blossomed to close to 1,200 members. Today, it has dwindled to near a quarter of that.
“When we had our membership dinner, we filled this place completely up,” Beck said as he strolled through the vast dance hall before demolition began Monday.
Minutes later, the Seufert Construction excavator plowed a hole through that space, wiping out the stage and littering the floor with severed roof shingles and fractured pieces of wood. It pushed forward through the kitchen, which was once filled with stoves and deep fryers, through the bar at the front of the building, all the way to the brick facade that sat across the street from the nearby Marathon gas station.
Before that, while walking through the dark, cavernous shell of what was once a major hub of life in the community, Beck’s voice echoed as he reflected on why the club needed to move. The revenue just wasn’t there any more because membership numbers are steadily dwindling. Less than 1 percent of graduates from Dubois County high schools now enter military service branches, he said.
“We knew, to keep this thing viable, we’re gonna have to do something,” he said. “And that’s when we decided to sell this place.”
When it was in use, he used to lock the doors up in the wee hours of the morning. Monday, he walked out for the last time.
But he’s not a sentimental man. When he thinks back on the club’s decision to move, Beck sticks by it. It was a conclusion that will allow the VFW to better operate within its current means and move forward.
Ron Himsel, a longtime member who came out to see the demolition, agreed that it was time to leave.
“It’s a tear and a smile,” he said. “You hate to see it go. But when he puts that hammer to the building after while, I may have to shed a tear. But we know what has to take place. Nothing stays the same as it used to be.”
Marty Welp, development manager at Seufert, estimated the complete demolition, hauling and site-work process will take a couple weeks.
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