Article information provided by Cenntenial Legion.
2nd Lieutenant Owen Baylis Coffman, the son of our first commander and local business leader Earl Coffman.
Lena Basilone, wife of World War Two Medal of Honor winner John Basilone, USMC was a member of our auxiliary from 1947-1951. Former actor, tennis star and mayor Charlie Farrell was a member. We are most famous for our nationally broadcast radio shows with the Kraft Music Hour and Lucky Strike show. Al Jolson, Judy Garland, Doris Day, Cary Grant, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Jerry Colonna and Bob Hope are some of the few Hollywood greats that performed from our stage!
What Makes this Post Unique
The Palm Springs American Legion Post 519 has been a part of our community since 1934. It was founded by Earl Coffman, a World War One Veteran and co-manager of the famous Desert Inn, owned by his mother, Palm Springs matriarch Nellie Coffman.
First a little background information. Early meetings of the Palm Springs legion were held at The Desert Inn. Later during World War Two, the legion moved into a temporary location at 193 Palm Canyon Drive called THE DUGOUT; which served active-duty soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines during the war.
In April 1944, the Palm Springs American Legion was named in honor of 2ndLt. Owen B. Coffman, the son of Helen and Earl Coffman and grandson of Nellie Coffman. A B-17 Bomber Pilot, Owen was killed in action on his second mission and is buried at the American Military Cemetery in Cambridge, England.
Shortly after Owen’s death, the American Legion made plans to build a permanent Wars Memorial Building in Palm Springs. On lands donated by Nellie Coffman and Pearl McManus, construction for the legion began in the summer of 1947 and was dedicated on January 3, 1948.
The contractor was Ryland Pinkard, a well-known local contractor who wanted to build the legion in honor of his son, PltSgt. Earle Pinkard, a U.S. Marine killed on Saipan in June, 1944.
The architects were John Porter Clark and Albert Frey. The building, located at 400 N. Belardo Road, is a pre-modernistic gem that incorporates many mid-century features. The interior was designed with a unique “Lamella” ceiling that is now considered rare for Southern California.
Additionally, from 1948 to 1953, dozens and dozens of Hollywood greats performed live on the legion’s stage to nationally broadcast audiences. Some of these celebrities included Bob Hope, Jerry Colona, Al Jolson, Doris Day, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Jack Benny, local celebrity mayor Charles Farrell and many, many others.
In 1999, the Palm Springs American Legion was declared a Class One Historic Site (HSPB-36). However, the legion is now 73 years old and is starting to show its age. In order to raise funds for a complete restoration, I helped create Owen Coffman Memorial Building Restoration Foundation.
Still in its infancy, the OCMBRF has one primary purpose: to restore our post to its 1948 glory with modern amenities with a 1940s/USO theme.