The People of the Post
Historic New Orleans VFW Uptown location is restored
By Topher Balfer
The building at the corner of Lyons and Annunciation had been there for years. When it was first built, it served as a community grocery store and then, in its second life, became the home of the Alfred E. Flynn VFW Post 8973. But the building, steeped in history, was falling apart.
Kirk Williamson, HBAGNO board member, member of the VFW Post and former chairman of the building committee, recalls a day five years ago when he and the other members of the VFW Post realized that something had to be done.
“We looked around our building and said, ‘What are we going to do here? Are we going to sell it or remodel it? What’s our goal?’” Williamson said.
The goal, it turned out, was to salvage not just their building, but their organization as a whole. Williamson said that when the members of the Post reflected on the significance of the space and on the irreplaceable support that their community offered, it became clear that losing the building altogether was not an option.
“The VFW to this day gives a sense of service where we can provide homeless veterans outreach, housing for individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who receive treatment in New Orleans hospitals. We can clean up gravestones and provide educational resources for some of the youth in our community,” Williamson said. “We built our membership on the belief that we were going to remodel this post. Because if we didn’t, all that would disappear. So we said, ‘That’s the mountain we want to take — let’s take it together.’”
For the next five years, the members of the Post focused on fundraising, picking up supporters and new members along the way. They received a helpful boost when a former member of the Post bequeathed the organization a shotgun house, which they were able to sell.
“We knew we had a responsibility with that money to try and revive that post as much as possible. We sold that piece of property and then fundraised our tails off. We raised in the neighborhood of about $500,000,” Williamson said.
Considering the nature of a veteran, the passion to complete the project was no surprise.
“I guess the military is pretty adept at doing that,” Williamson said. “It was a team effort, an incredible experience from start to finish. It provided a sense of community more than anything else to me.”
About a year ago, Williamson said that the organization finally felt ready to begin the construction phase of the process. They had already come a long way — membership had grown from 20 to almost 300, and they were thriving on their journey to accomplish a common goal.
When it was finally time to hire a contractor, the Post’s board members conducted several interviews before ultimately partnering with Design Management Group.
“DMG’s name surfaced to the top time and time again,” he said. “And it was an incredible partnership.”
The Finish Line
Design Management Group, located on Metairie Road , is a Design + Build construction firm specializing in new construction, renovations and commercial projects. Ryan McCroskey, DMG owner, said that although the VFW project is classified as a commercial renovation, the extent of demolition and reconstruction gave many aspects of the project the feel of a new construction.
In addition, the design and building teams had to pay special attention to ADA Compliance to ensure accessibility for all veterans.
“Especially because of the work that the VFW does with traumatic brain injury, the ADA Compliance throughout the building was really important,” McCroskey said. “That’s something that was built in rather than added on after. So the handicap lifts, the wheelchair ramps and everything else were considered through the entire process.”
Another key consideration, McCroskey said, was preserving the history of the building.
“The Post was founded in the 50s, and even though it was in disrepair, it was really important for this to be an historical preservation project. We wanted to not only maintain the integrity of the original post, but also to maintain the integrity of the original grocery store,” McCroskey said. “I think it was important for us and for everyone to maintain the original aesthetic because that was such an integral part of the community.”
Once DMG got started, the process was completed in just a year. McCroskey said that this efficiency comes from the company’s relationship between the designing and building processes, which always lend to a “bigger picture.”
“We have a blueprint designer with a Masters in Architecture on staff who does all of our renderings and designs. When you look at their designs and renderings, they’re true to the finished product,” McCroskey said. “Clients are happy when the person who does their design is consistent and everything is clear from the beginning.”
In the end, Williamson said that such partnerships are what ultimately helped them to finish their goal — not just with DMG, but with the community, donors and the veterans themselves.
“As you start to run up the mountain, you get more and more people to help you get to the top,” Williamson said. “Without that goal, without that mission, it would’ve dissolved. Now that it’s done, our mission is to try and be that community center not just for veterans but for advocacy, for volunteerism, for the future, for kids who may be thinking about joining the military, mentoring, service...all of it.”
Post 8973 meets every third Thursday of the month.