American Legion looks to build new home in Encinitas


New plans call for American Legion San Dieguito Post 416 to raze its historic buildings in downtown Encinitas and build a new structure from scratch.

The older of the current two attached buildings was moved onto the site on Second Street at F Street in 1930 from the old Camp Kearny, a World War I Army base in what is now the Kearny Mesa area, San Diego.

And the other building, which houses the bar area, was brought from Camp Callan, a World War II base on what is now UC San Diego, in the 1940s.

Surveying the wooden interior recently, Mayor Catherine Blakespear said it definitely has a ‘40s look, which she indicated gave it a particularly welcoming appeal. She liked the open feeling of the structure.

Blakespear was there to appear on a video promoting a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the proposed new building.

She said the Post serves “a very important mission” helping veterans and providing community celebrations on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day.

“It’s an environment that’s important to us,” she said. “We’re really excited about this project.” The current building, she said, “is quite run-down.” “I’m happy to support this cause,” Blakespear said.

Last December, when the street in front of the Post was closed and crowded with 500 visitors to watch the annual Amy and Navy game, Matt Shillingburg, then second vice commander, talked about plans to renovate the buildings and expand on the site.

Within the last two weeks, those plans have changed.

Schillingburg, now the new Post commander, said last week that meetings with architects had proven that it simply would be too costly to try to rehabilitate the old buildings.

Instead, Schillingburg showed architectural renderings of a shiny new two-story structure with extra parking.

Although Blakespear endorsed the campaign on the video, she earlier expressed some concerns as she looked at the rendering. Would the building stay under the 30-foot height limit for the area? Is it a bit too “industrial looking” for Encinitas? Could it maintain the Post’s open, welcoming feel?

Schillingburg said the plans could be finetuned a bit.

Blakespear said older members will be sentimental about the current structures whereas younger ones are apt to like the nicer building.

Schillingburg said the new building will cost $2 million and take three years to build.

He noted there will be extra interest next year – the 100th anniversary of the American Legion’s founding.

Schillingburg said there will be space in the new structure for a full-time veterans service officer. The 500-member San Dieguito Post serves the area between Oceanside and La Jolla.

Also appearing on the video, produced as a gift by Amy Scruggs and filmed by John Morse, was Kerry Cortinas, part of a pitch to let people know the Legion is for younger folks, too.

That’s not, Schillingburg said, meant in any way to detract from the Post’s 22 World War II veterans (all in their 90s now) or the 48 members who served during the Korean conflict (1950-53).

Cortinas, new vice commander, is 45.

“We want to do something to honor their (older veterans) legacy and also our legacy (post Gulf War veterans),” Cortinas said.

A former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in Okinawa, Cortinas and her husband, Justin, a former Navy corpsman, moved to Encinitas in 2005 but joined the legion only two years ago. “It can only get better,” she said.

Schillingburg is a 22-year Army veteran, 1974-1996, half that time as an enlisted man and half as an officer. He spent three years in the Middle East.

He comes from a military family; his dad, Andy, served in Korea and as a frogman and Navy Seal (1947-1966). Although born in the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va., Schillingburg grew up in San Diego County – in Imperial Beach.

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-- Lola Sherman is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune.