(Editor’s note: After running the story about the American Legion giving the YMCA a check for $25,000, several people wondered about the history of the legion. Below is a brief history of the Legion and of the Pacific Palisades Legion.)
“We don’t want war, because we know what war is,” said Palisadian Scott Erickson, who served in Vietnam and was a former Post 283 adjutant. (The adjutant keeps membership records and minutes of meetings, assists the work of other officers and committees, and publishes official orders, announcements and instructions.)
Many Pacific Palisades residents might be surprised to learn that in 1999, President Bill Clinton received a letter from the American Legion urging the immediate withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia. Perhaps even more surprising in the history of this nonpartisan service group was the accusation that it was in cahoots with big business and planned to overthrow the Federal government.
The American Legion was founded at the Paris Caucus in France on March 15, 1919, at the suggestion of Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
The newly formed organization’s first fight was to ensure veterans received the same compensation as government workers (World War Adjusted Compensation Act). The bill was not supported by Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, but eventually passed in 1924.
Over the years, the Legion continued to fight for veterans’ rights, paving the way for the G.I. Bill (signed into law June 1944) and more recently Post 283 fought for the construction on the VA campus of the Fisher Home (a place for a vet’s family to stay, while the vet receives medical services).
Post 283 was founded in 1928 with 20 charter members, including one of town’s first residents, Clifford Clearwater, and Teleford Work, founder of The Palisadian newspaper.
Local historians Betty Lou and Randy Young wrote in “Pacific Palisades: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea” that the town’s first official zoning took place in 1928 in the office of The Palisadian.
“Huber Smutz of the Los Angeles City Planning Department in one afternoon zoned all 2,800 lots in Tract 9300. Within a week the city council gave its approval. There were no notices to property owners and no hearings; yet, with the exception of an enlarged business district, that zoning remains in force today.”
The Media Museum of North California, in Work’s bio, quoted Martha Patterson Wynegar, a Palisades resident (since 1925), “Work supported the efforts of “the church, the YMCA and all of the good things in the community.”
According to the Youngs, one of the Legionaires’ greatest concerns was fires and in September 1928, a fire broke out north of Peace Hill (above Via de la Paz). The closest city fire station was on Sawtelle, and fire trucks went up Rustic and then Mandeville Canyons looking for the location. By the time firefighters arrived, residents had put it out.
The Youngs wrote “Recognizing the need to acquaint citizens with the terrain, the Legion organized automobile tours of the mountains and began lobbying for a fire station. At the suggestion of charter Legion member Jack Sauer, the Santa Monica Land and Water Company donated property on Beverly (now Sunset) Boulevard (at La Cruz) for the new facility, which was inaugurated in 1929.”
Police protection was also non-existent and, that same year, Legion members badgered the city police department into renting temporary office space in the Business Block for $10 a month. A year later a motorcycle officer was assigned to make nightly visits. The Palisadian: reported “Riding a saddle-seat made out of horse hide [the officer] sputters through here over Beverly Boulevard about 11:30 each evening. . .Remember then the hour of Paul Revere’s ride! He comes and goes at 11:30. Schedule your misfortune, tragedy, hard luck, or whatever it may be, accordingly.”
In 1934, Work sold the newspaper to Clearwater, whose photography of the early Palisades is now housed in a collection at the Santa Monica Library. In a resolution to the Inter-American Press Association, Work wrote: “The freedom of the press is essential and finally is the right of the people, the public, to be given information honestly in support of activities that affect the conduct of their governments.”
Pacific Palisades did not have a Post Office and after World War II, the building on La Cruz was constructed by the American Legion.
In 1958, when Ah Wing Young was commander, the present legion hall and building housing CVS was built based on plans from architect Kenneth Thompson, a past Post commander.
The annual Fourth of July parade was started by the Post in 1961 while Russel Olsen was commander. The Post, in addition to supporting veterans, also contributes to local schools, sports teams, village nonprofits and provides scholarships to numerous college-bound students.
To join the Legion one must be currently serving in the military or have received an honorable discharge, and had at least one day of active duty during one of the following: World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, 1982 Lebanon War, Operation Urgent Fury (Grenada), Operation Just Cause (Panama); Gulf War/War on Terror (Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom); Afghanistan War.