George Washington Bay View Post 180 for Sale

September 5, 2018

By Katherine Keller

Constructed in 1941, the brick Georgian Revival Bay View George Washington Legion Post, 2860 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., was designed by Nicholas Backes, who also designed the former American Legion Headquarters in Milwaukee, 812 E. State Street, in 1923. —Photo Katherine Keller

A Bay View landmark since 1941, this building has served its country as home to the George Washington Bay View American Legion Post 180. Now it’s time to serve the community in a different way.

So reads a sentence of the Falcon Realty listing for the red brick building that has been perched on the corner of South Kinnickinnic Avenue and East Fulton Street since 1941.

An offer to purchase the property is pending and is contingent on the prospective buyer receiving a raze permit from the city of Milwaukee, according to Emily Huf of Shoreline Contracting Services. Huf filed the application to raze the building on behalf of her client July 30.

Huf said the “buyer’s identity will be revealed as soon as the city issues the raze permit.” The review process includes searching for historic preservation designation or other restrictions.

A review of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Architecture and History Inventory records indicates that there are no existing historical designations for the building.

Listed for $699,000, the red brick 7,194-square-foot building consists of an open auditorium on the main floor and a bar and restaurant on the lower level that is equipped with a full kitchen and walk-in cooler. The lot is .69 acres with a 54-space parking lot. The current assessment is $480,000. 

Constructed in 1941, the brick Georgian Revival building was designed by Nicholas Backes, who also designed the former American Legion Headquarters in Milwaukee, 812 E. State Street, in 1923.

“The decision to sell was not easily reached,” said Ian Nunn, the current GWBV post commander.

An Iowa native, Nunn graduated from Marquette University’s ROTC program in 2004, served in Iraq in 2005 and moved to Milwaukee after completing his service. He and his family live in Bay View.

Declining and aging enrolment contributed to the members’ decision to sell the building. Nunn stressed that the members are not disbanding or letting go of the post’s charter. 

At one time, Post 180 boasted 1,000-plus members but has dwindled to fewer than 200.

Four years ago, Bob Schlemm, a 40-year GWBV member told the Compass that the Legion faced a perception problem that made recruiting new members a challenge. “We’re struggling right now,” he said. “We’re struggling to find memberships, and it’s not that we’re short of veterans…We just went down to the Reserve Center two weekends ago and one of the things we were approached with was, ‘Well I’m not 60, 70 years old, why would I want to belong to an American Legion? My father belonged to it.’”

Nunn agreed. The Legion struggles with recruiting new and younger members at the national, state, and local levels. “Many see Legion members as people who march in parades. When members looked in the future, they didn’t see a future need for such a large property,” Nunn said. “The building required money and work to maintain it and no one had the time or inclination to volunteer to maintain it.” 

The members began to consider whether they should continue leasing the building or if they should sell it.

Public bar and rental hall

Many Bay View residents fondly remember attending a Friday night fish fry in the Legion post and attending wedding receptions and other family functions in the first floor hall.

Members of the community were able to rent the hall for ceremonies and functions.

The Legion members generated income by leasing the bar, restaurant, and hall to help offset property taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs. Although the Legion is a nonprofit organization, normally exempted from paying property taxes, they were obligated to pay property taxes on the portion of the building that generated income. He noted that their tenants, rather than the Legion members, paid the utility bills.

The most recent tenant was Little DeMarinis pizzeria, which closed in March 2018. 

Veronica and Joey Cieslak opened Little DeMarinis at the Legion post in February 2014, reviving the shuttered DeMarinis pizza restaurant, a community icon for since the 1950s.

The original DeMarinis began as a corner tavern on Potter and Wentworth avenues and was owned and operated by Veronica Cieslak’s grandparents, Lucille and Vincenzo DeMarinis. The couple lived in the apartment above and there they raised their family of four, two daughters and two sons, RoseMary, Josephine, Philip, and Dominic. Veronica is RoseMary’s daughter. 

The couple began serving food in their tavern in 1952.

When Lucille and Vincenzo retired in 1980, their children took over. The sisters operated the original restaurant until they closed it in 2012. They also provided care for their aging parents. “It was getting to be too much for [sisters RoseMary and Josephine],” said Veronica Cieslak. “Mom was always in the role of caregiver, and it just got to be too much.” 

Bequeathed with the original recipes and motivated by a desire to continue  her grandparents’ legacy, Cieslak and her husband opened Little DeMarinis.

“There were a lot of things we were naive about going into opening the restaurant,” Cieslak said. It was a decision based off emotion and I admittedly didn’t think everything through. At this point in my life, with two children and a full-time job already, I simply did not have the time to invest in the restaurant that it required to be successful.”

The Cieslaks’ lease expired in July, although they closed in March after notifying the GWBV post that they would terminate early. “We had intentions of selling the business and had a buyer interested in establishing their own lease at the American Legion Post,” Cieslak said. “However, when they went to one of the post’s meetings, they were told the Legion was no longer interested in leasing the space because they were selling the building instead.”

The Cieslaks’ five year lease allowed for early termination with proper notice.

The building is not ADA compliant and the kitchen is small. Ian Nunn said the building was originally conceived as a clubhouse with a small kitchen.

A new patio and a ground floor entrance were added to the Kinnickinnic Avenue side of the building, paid for by the GWBV post prior to the Cieslaks’ arrival in 2013. Nunn said the Cieslaks made interior changes to the bar/restaurant area at their own expense and were given a discount on their first two months of rent as a goodwill gesture.

If sold, then what?

The owner of On the Clock Bar and Grill (South Howell Avenue and East Bolivar St.) has allowed the members to meet in the restaurant. Nunn said they would continue to meet there because “it’s hard to beat a free facility.”

If they sell the building, the proceeds will be used to pay operating expenses and to finance post functions.

Those proceeds will be substantial since the GWBV building was paid for long ago. 

Nunn said, post functions include supporting numerous veterans organizations and causes such as Camp American Legion, Hometown Heroes, Honor Flight, Fisher House, Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, the Inter-Organizational Council of Bay View, Humboldt Park 4th of July, various parades, local Boy Scout and Young Marines troops, and sponsorship of two boys per year to attend Badger Boys State.

He said the post might reduce membership fees that are currently $50 per year.

Another project that may benefit from the sale is the restoration of the World War I Memorial structure in Humboldt Park. 

The post will rent a storage facility for flags and plaques that are currently stored in the building. Nunn said they would sell materials they don’t need or want, most likely via Facebook.

 

In 1928 the post was chartered as Bay View Post 180 and was headquartered in a building at 2530 S. Shore Drive that it leased from the Carnegie Illinois Steel Company of Chicago. Courtesy George Washington Bay View L

As the Compass reported in 2014, Post 180 began in June 1927 when Fred Osterndorf, who later became the post’s first commander, began recruiting local veterans for a Bay View chapter of the national American Legion. In 1928, the post was chartered as Bay View Post 180 and was headquartered in a (no longer existing) building, 2530 S. Shore Dr. that it leased from the Carnegie Illinois Steel Company of Chicago. Soon the post’s membership grew and its services expanded. By the next decade, it became clear the post needed to move to a larger building. The building it now occupies was erected in 1941. The post purchased the land from the city of Milwaukee and constructed the building for $25,000.

In 1971, Bay View Post 180 merged with the St. Francis Post and was re-chartered as Bay View St. Francis Post 180. After another merger in 2002 with the George Washington Post, it was renamed George Washington Bay View Post 180. The function of the organization has remained the same throughout its nearly 90 year history—to mentor and sponsor youth programs, promote and advocate for veterans, to rehabilitate veterans, and to provide a social and democratic forum for veterans.

 

Lucille and Vincenzo (Jimmy) DeMarinis started their business in 1949 as a tavern and began serving food about 1952. They named their restaurant Mama DeMarinis. Courtesy Bay View Historical Society

Vincent and Lucille (Vitrano) DeMarinis opened their corner tavern on South Wentworth and East Potter avenues in 1949 and lived in the apartment above it. They began to offer food about 1952. Lucille was born in Buffalo, N.Y. Vincent DeMarinis emigrated from Italy.

Veronica Cieslak said many people assumed the family recipes came from Vincent DeMarinis, but they were developed by Lucille. She liked to cook and worked diligently in the kitchen, even while pregnant with twins Josephine and RoseMary. In addition to their daughters, Lucille and Vincent had two sons, Dominic and Philip.

In 1996, Josephine DeMarinis and RoseMary DeMarinis Latter began operating their parents’ restaurant. A family dispute with their brothers Dominic and Philip ensued over ownership of the Mama DeMarinis. It led to the brothers opening their own restaurant a couple of blocks north, 1211 E. Conway Street. They named it Dom & Phil DeMarinis Original Recipes and it is still operating today, solely by Phil since the death of Dominic in 2003.

Lucille DeMarinis’ recipes, specifically the pizza, were renowned throughout the community, drawing long waits at the bar for a table and sometimes lines out the door.

The family operated a second location on 108th Street in West Allis during the 1980s. Veronica Cieslak said during the same period, Vincent’s brother, Albert DeMarinis, operated DeMarinis Cocktail Lounge in the building now occupied by Lee’s Luxury Lounge, 2988 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Opened in the mid 1960s, the cocktail lounge and supper club operated for three decades.

 

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