Structural problems threaten to close Cayucos Veterans Hall

What the loss of Cayucos' veterans hall would mean for the community

Breck Smith, Cayucos Lions Club president, talks about how a closure of the Cayucos veterans hall would impact the community.
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Breck Smith, Cayucos Lions Club president, talks about how a closure of the Cayucos veterans hall would impact the community.

Less than a year after the historic Cayucos Pier reopened following a two-year closure, the community of Cayucos is facing the potentially devastating loss of another vital community facility — the Cayucos Veterans Memorial Lions Hall.

Recent architectural inspections by San Luis Obispo County have shown that portions of the building are structurally unsound, and its use may have to be restricted. The county public works department, which operates the facility, told the building’s primary occupant, the Cayucos Lions Club, that it had to vacate the building by last Friday.

“That came as a total shock,” said Breck Smith, president of the club. “The Vets Hall is a tremendous asset to the community.”

A lot of questions remain unanswered, including whether the building will have to be completely shut down, how long repairs will take and how much they will cost. But this much is clear: The county has prohibited scheduling any new events in the building and is assessing its long-term viability.

We have the Vets Hall rented out through October 2017. That’s a lot of brides and mother-in-laws to disappoint.

Breck Smith, president of the Cayucos Lions Club

Like the pier, the Vets Hall is owned by the state of California but managed by the county according to an agreement signed about 70 years ago.

By agreement with the county, the 81-member Lions Club handles day-to-day operations of the building, which sits at the foot of the pier. The club rents out the hall for events and has already canceled a wedding that was scheduled for this weekend, Smith said. It’s unclear what, if any, events will be allowed in the facility for the foreseeable future.

“We have the Vets Hall rented out through October 2017,” Smith said “That’s a lot of brides and mother-in-laws to disappoint.”

Smith does not have an estimate of how much money the club will lose as a result of cancellations. The club charges $950 per event at the hall. The hall is booked just about every weekend and hosts 50 to 60 major events a year, Smith said.

In its agreement with the county, the club keeps all the money it charges for events and uses most of it to maintain the Vets Hall, Smith said. Whatever money is left over is spent on providing free eye care and swim passes for kids at the pool in Hardie Park a few blocks away.

A century of add-ons

Dave Flynn, deputy director of county public works, said the barn-shaped building is more than a century old and was originally a warehouse. It has been added onto numerous times over the decades, and many of those add-ons did not meet building standards.

“Essentially, over time a lot of those elements have a lack of structural redundancy, such as posts and beams, and that creates potential weaknesses in the overall structure,” he said. “Loading on the building is certainly a concern.”

The worst part of the building is the stage, which is already boarded off with sheets of plywood. The footings in this part of the building are so deteriorated that the wooden flooring is sagging and the deck outside is being dismantled because of safety concerns. The exterior siding has been removed to allow inspectors to assess damage to the building.

The main concern is how well the building would be able to withstand strong windstorms and earthquakes. County building inspectors will examine the structure on Monday, decide how much use it can safely handle and determine the repairs that are needed, said county Supervisor Bruce Gibson, whose district includes Cayucos. A decision on the fate of the building will likely be made late next week.

Community hub

The potential loss of the Vets Hall has sent shock waves throughout the tight-knit coastal community. It is common for 400 people or more to attend an event at the hall on a weekend, most of whom will stay in local motels and eat at local restaurants.

“This is really not good,” said Richard Shannon, owner of On the Beach Bed & Breakfast, which sits catty-corner to the hall. “The Vets Hall is a major economic driver in the community. It is our only proper public venue. We are definitely going to see a drop in motel stays and restaurant visits.”

In addition to the Lions Club, the Cayucos Citizens Advisory Council meets there, as well as numerous civic organizations such as arts and seniors groups, as well as exercise and computer classes.

The Vets Hall is major economic driver in the community. It is our only proper public venue. We are definitely going to see a drop in motel stays and restaurant visits.

Richard Shannon, owner of On the Beach Bed & Breakfast

Gibson, himself a Cayucos resident, agrees with Shannon’s assessment. He calls the Vets Hall the lifeblood of the community.

“It is the single most important building in the community,” he said. “We need to get this problem taken care of.”

Packing up

On Thursday, the hall was its usual hive of activity as workers set up chairs for a meeting of the Cayucos Sanitary District. It was the last large-scale community event in the building for the foreseeable future.

Volunteers were also busy Thursday packing up anything that could be moved out in advance of the Friday deadline to vacate the building. Smith said he was hoping the county would allow them another two or three weeks to finish the job.

“It’s impossible,” he said. “We won’t be able to get everything out by Friday.”

He said he hopes the county will allow the building to stay open for smaller-scale events such as art shows and exercise classes.

Additionally, the building’s back patio — with its many barbecue pits and picnic tables — could remain open.

“The total loss of the building to the community would be catastrophic in terms of usage and in terms of local revenue to town,” Smith said. “We know there will be disruptions because of repairs, but a complete closure would be awful.”

‘Nothing else like it’

The county’s 70-year-old agreement with the state to manage the Vets Hall means it is on the hook to do whatever repairs are needed to make the structure safe again.

The county will budget what money it can for repairs while aggressively seeking grants. But it may come down to the community having to step up and do fundraising to make up for any shortfall, Gibson said.

“Cayucos is an extraordinary community,” he said. “We will go pedal to the metal to raise the funds we need.”

Repairs to the Cayucos Pier cost $3.5 million. Of that, Cayucos residents raised $230,000.

Jennifer Dorn, manager of Duckie’s Chowder House across the street from the Vets Hall, said her business suffered when the pier was closed. She expects the closure of the Vets Hall would have a similar impact.

“The Vets Hall has weddings, fundraisers for fireworks and everything,” she said. “There’s nothing else like it.”