American Legion Post 291 in Newport Beach Celebrates 100th Birthday on July 4

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Tim Sullivan, Commander of the Sons of The American Legion; Evan Planto, Commander of American Legion Post 291 Newport Harbor; Mary Beth Martin, President of the American Legion Auxiliary Unit 291 Newport Harbor; and David Campagnari, Commodore American Legion Yacht Club.

It will be quite the celebration!

Come July 4 there will be a new centenarian in town: Post 291 of the American Legion.

In its 100-year existence, the 8,000-member, Balboa Peninsula-based Legion has grown from an energetic, proud and patriotic group of 30 WWI veterans to its current membership of more than 4,200 vets.

According to American Legion Post Commander Evin Plant, the Newport Beach Legion is the second largest in the nation.

Included in that number are 34 service members from WWII (1941-45); 260 from the Korean War (1950-53); and 2,437 from the undeclared Vietnam war (1955-75). Like the Legion post, several of the current members also have reached the century mark.

The post’s remaining members comprise the Sons of American Legion (including daughters and spouses), the American Legion Auxiliary, and the American Legion Yacht Club.

The American Legion is far more than a group of service members getting together over “brewskies” to rehash and re-embellish memories of wartime adventure (many never saw combat, but all nonetheless served in invaluable assignments). It is a charitable organization providing support in three general areas: Veterans, Community and Youth.

Aerial view of the American Legion Post 291. Photo courtesy of American Legion Post 291

Under the “Veterans” label, the Post supports 10 different groups or activities, including the Long Beach Veteran’s Hospital, Operation Comfort Warriors, Socks for Heroes, Mental Health Association of Orange County, the Scan Van Ride (a Vets’ Bike Ride), American Spartan (a service to disabled veterans), Homes for our Troops, Orange County Air Force Family Readiness, 5th Marines Combat Golf Tournament, and the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.

The Community component supports the Bob Hope USO Center, Newport Beach Police Association, Firemen and Lifeguard Recognition, Patriot Paws (Service Dogs) and HOAG Hospital City Charity Shoot.

The Youth category gives to Boys State, Boy Scouts of Orange County, CHOC Follies (Children’s Hospital), Special Olympics, the Youth Patriotic Singing Group, and several others.

In all, the Post donates nearly $318,000 annually to individuals and veterans’ organizations. Likewise, the Auxiliaries raise impressive donations.

Entrance to the American Legion Post 291. Photo courtesy of American Legion Post 291

Post 291 was founded in 1924 by a group of 30 World War I veterans who were residents of the Newport Harbor area. They held an organizational meeting in the quarters of the Balboa Chamber of Commerce. The group elected Raymond Hitchcock Brunswick as their first Commander,

A battle plan was formulated to raise the $1,500 needed to purchase a site on 10th Street. Through a series of fundraisers, the founders’ objective was attained.

Along with the property came a 25-year lease on the tidelands between the property and the bay. Subsequent efforts in 1925 secured a bank loan of $1,900 to construct a one-story hut that became the headquarters. The first meeting there was held December 2, 1925.

Then came the great membership drive of 1926, resulting in a Post membership of 80.

The expanded membership voted to use part of its property as a hut site for the Newport Beach Boy Scouts Troop, formed in 1922. And to this day, the Scouts are on the list of organizations supported by Post 291.

Original Post 291 Hut on 10th Street. Photo courtesy of American Legion Post 291

In 1940, the city issued a new lease to the Post on 15th Street, its current location.

Members and their friends volunteered to construct the Great Hall in 1949. Unfortunately, a fire started by a faulty floor furnace razed the Hall in 1979. But serendipitously, the Post leaders took out insurance 11 days earlier. The Hall was fully restored on July 4, 1980 — to appropriate celebration.

In 2002, Newport granted the Post a new 25-year lease, with a 25-year lease extension option, “thus,” read the tag sentence on an online Post bio, “leaving a path for our future membership to follow.”

Come Thursday, July 4, the Legion Post will hold an open-to-the-public Centennial celebration: Legion members, along with Newport Beach Fire Department volunteers, will host a pancake breakfast, which will expand throughout the day and evening with performances by various bands.

On Friday, July 5, the Post 291 will host a Gala dinner in the Great Hall. “We’re hoping for 500 attendees,” said Post Commandant Plant.

Celebrants will dine in a recently refurbished main hall that was originally erected between 1953 and 1955. The Post raised $600,000 to upgrade the main hall, kitchen (which old salts refer to as the galley), outside dining deck, and offices.

Hundreds of Marines were bussed to the American Legion Post 291 to watch the 2024 Super Bowl / photo by Lawrene Sherwin

Although the look is subtly new, the building’s original spirit remains. The expanded kitchen runs seven days a week and is open for both lunch and dinner; breakfast is served on Sundays. The bar also runs daily and opens at 11 a.m. until closing. Needless to say, the prices are veteran friendly.

Post 291 for many is an important retreat for remembrance, respect, comradeship, social gatherings, marine recreation (there is a yacht club), and dining pleasure.

According to longtime American Legion member Neil Hardin, 75, “This organization brings me to the doorstep of camaraderie. Each morning for more than two decades, Dan (a fellow Legion member) and I gather here sipping coffee, watching TV and immersing ourselves in the pulse of this community. It’s about the friendships forged, the diverse veterans encountered and the enriching connection with local governance.”

Hardin’s friend Dan O’Sullivan, 80, has been an American Legion member for 23 years.

“This is where individuals who have served can openly share their experiences, unburdening themselves from the weight of what they’ve witnessed and done. It’s a supportive environment where conversations flow freely and there’s a genuine understanding of each other’s journeys.”

American Legion Post 291 is living history in Newport that’s available to – and for – everyone.

Visit the American Legion Post 291 for details on the 100th anniversary celebration at https://www.al291.com/.

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