DENVER — VFW Post 1, in Denver, was the first Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in the country. That's part of the reason why some of its oldest members revere the post's nostalgic neon sign as a piece of Colorado history.
The sign first went up at the VFW location on Bannock Street in the 1940s. When they moved to the Santa Fe Arts District in 2014, the sign went into storage and got lost when a new owner took over the storage company. Call it destiny or good luck, but a local restorer of neon signs found it in the trash. He fixed and returned the sign to the VFW when he heard what happened through mutual connections.
Years later, the sign remains grounded, lying on its side in VFW Post 1. The VFW intended to hang it soon after its homecoming but the 100-year-old building intended to anchor the sign did not have the strength. Denver inspectors determined the sign could not be hung in accordance with city code because of the building's condition.
"We're trying to get the building up to all the requirements needed to be able to our sign back up," Jim Stevens, the executive director of VFW Post 1 and the Veterans Arts Council. "We look at that beautiful sign every day thinking, 'this should be out there for people to enjoy.'"
VFW Post 1 started remodeling their building more than a year ago. Progress stalled because of COVID and the rising costs of materials, but they hope to finish the first phase of construction by the end of November. Finishing the front half of the building will require more funds.
They came up with a campaign called Portraits Helping Heroes.
Stevens is a veteran who was shot in the head during the Vietnam War. He lost his sight when a bullet fragment shifted in his brain, but that did not decrease his hunger to create art. Stevens has painted for years and helps other veterans channel their energy into art, as well. Now he wants to use his talent for the campaign.
"I'm trying to let celebrities, hopefully local celebrities, know that I'd love to paint their portrait and we will put it out as a prize drawing," Stevens said.
The first portrait to be painted is of country music artist Michael Peterson.
Because of COVID and the continued renovations, VFW Post 1 relies on Zoom meetings as of late. They hope that with the help of donations and money raised from these paintings, they can return to a refreshed building complete with its old sign.
"We want to reopen because our primary mission is to help veterans," Stevens said.
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