Warren's old Armory re-born

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Slowly but surely, the old Warren Armory on Jefferson Street is coming back to life.

It's been more than two years since a group of preservationists and veterans led a successful campaign to save the building, culminating in a town vote in May 2010 that made it a publicly owned structure.

Since then, volunteers with Historic Warren Armory, Inc. have obtained non-profit status, gotten a host of grants and began undertaking an ambitious effort to restore the iconic building and make it a truly public space. Though volunteers had hoped to finish the majority of the repairs by this coming November, things are going a bit slower than scheduled, said Tom Culora, president of the organization's board of directors.

"Our goal was to try to get the building open this year," he said. "But we're really driven by funding. In this economic environment we've had some very generous people help us, but the normal sources (of grant revenue) aren't there."

The plan is ambitious. For years, the Armory was the home base of the American Legion. But as membership in the veterans' organization dwindled, members of what would become HWA stepped forward with a plan: Open the building up to the public for public and private meetings, events and functions. At the same time, they wanted to create a place where veterans could meet, and be welcomed, in perpetuity.

"Our charge is to open the building not only to support the remaining veterans in (American Legion) Post 11, but other vets, and also the community," said Mr. Culora, a Navy veteran. "I got involved because, to me, it's more about providing community service."

In order to get to that point, though, the old building has needed extensive work. Apart from a need to relocate bathrooms, the entire building must be made handicapped accessible, and the roof needed replacement. Other jobs - new walls, floors, electricity, and many other smaller jobs, were also necessary. Much of the work has been completed, but much remains.

Central to it all is fund-raising, and this weekend there's a biggie.

Historic Warren Armory will hold a traditional clambake at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, at the Pete Sepe Pavilion. Tickets are $25 per person and can be purchased by calling Bob Hamel at 245-5386, or you can get them at Don's Art Shop, Main Street.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.