Fire damages American Legion building

ALBANY — Billie Stovall struggled for words as she watched flames leap into the night from Albany's historic American Legion Hall in the early morning of the Fourth of July.

"Lots of lost memories," said Stovall, manager for Albany American Legion Post 10.

Some firefighters still remained at the three-alarm fire at 5 a.m., nearly five hours after it was reported. At the height of the blaze at 1215 Pacific Boulevard S.E., 42 firefighters from five fire departments were at the scene.

Albany Fire Department spokeswoman Wanda Omdahl said early today that the fire caused "significant damage" to the estimated 90-year old structure. The cause is unknown.

The building is expected to be insured and is valued at approximately $340,000, Stovall said.

Nobody was in the building when the fire broke out shortly after midnight, Omdahl said, and no injuries were reported. Small flames were visible on the roof next to Albany Guns Coins & Jewelry on Pacific before they soon grew in size.

By 1:30 a.m., massive flames sent smoke billowing into the night and closed down the 1200 block of Pacific Boulevard for several hours.

People stood in small groups, some taking pictures or videos with cell phones.

At one point, flames reached the power lines above, forcing firefighters to move a crowd of onlookers back even more because of safety concerns.

Stovall said the home for Albany Post 10 was built in three phases, beginning in 1920 when a container building was moved into place at the current address.

Now she could only watch next to Post 10 bar manager Brian Steele as the fire burned.

"We recently celebrated our 90th birthday," Stovall said, speaking of the anniversary for Post 10.

Stovall said the American Legion executive board recently hired a grant writer, in the hopes of constructing a new building.

"Now I don't know where we stand," she said.

The loss of the building will likely mean 15 employees are out of a job.

Stovall said the building housed several mementos, including a 9/11 American flag with names of all the victims from the 2001 World Trade Center disaster.

Somebody had just brought in a picture of the Korean War Memorial a little more than a week ago.

"People would bring things down that they wanted the world to see that had a lot of meaning to them," Stovall said.

The building also contained numerous flags and equipment for the local American Legion Honor Guard.

"The honor guard is completely out of business," Stovall said.

The unit, which often handles multiple funerals for veterans in a day, works as far away as Eugene and Corvallis.

Now their flags, uniforms, stands and other equipment are likely destroyed.

As she watched the fire consume the gathering place for up to 150 people daily, memories remain for Stovall.

It was a place where people came together to get married, to talk and share their lives.

"It's a place where relationships started," she said. "It's a place where relationships ended."

As the early morning sky turned dark blue, brown smoke still drifted high above. The roof appeared collapsed and charred walls were visible from the street.

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