Homeland Blues: Inside the Shuttered Park Slope VFW Hall Underneath the F Train

A VFW Hall, part of a dying breed. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)

A VFW Hall, part of a dying breed. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images)

Veterans of Foreign Wars post #9485 was a bygone relic of a Park Slope that no longer exists. A kind of neighborhood secret, tucked away beneath the elevated subway tracks, it was both a private club for veterans, a genuinely grungy dive and—perhaps most importantly—a time capsule that shielded itself from outsiders and avoided the gentrification going on outside. It is now closed some 50 years after opening on 4th Avenue and 10th Street in Brooklyn. Officials blame dwindling numbers.

“Our membership is declining,” said State Commander Mike Pascal when asked about the closure. “The majority of our membership is World War II veterans, and they’re dying.”

Located underneath the raised tracks of the F line, for a half-century the post occupied a dim space inside a stone abutment on the block’s corner.

Today, the original entrance—with its Member’s Only sign and homemade doorbell—stands behind an unrolled metal door with a leather flap marked MAIL. Marred hours of operation and a Party Room for Rent advertisement still adorn the brick exterior, but the Post’s original sign is hidden by an ongoing subway stop renovation.

In February, The Transom visited post #9485 to meet Mike Hues, who grew up across the street and like the other dozen members, registered no response to an overhead train that jiggled the ceiling’s Valentine’s Day decor and rippled everyone’s drink. “You don’t hear it,” he said of the rapid 1-2 count reverberating through the hall. “New people,” he said, referring to us, “they hear it.”

Founded in 1964 by local Veterans dissatisfied with their 58th street Post (Sergeant H. W. Steneck Post #601), Post #9485 was one of 18 in Brooklyn and over 7000 nationwide. Eligible VFW members must serve 30 days in a combat zone or be wounded in battle.

“We were a spinoff of a World War I Post,” said Post Commander Anthony Nappi during an interview that was twice delayed by the passing train. “The guys who broke off of Steneck Post were at that point in time considered the young guys. They were the World War II guys.” Post 601 closed in 2004, 83 years after its grand opening or “muster date.” Now a New Jersey resident, Mr. Nappi was wounded in Vietnam.

Mr. Hues, also a Vietnam veteran, lives in Bensonhurst but used to drive to the post every Friday to make repairs, kill mildew, and hold on to a bit of a past he seemed to know was slipping away.

“Guys from Iraq don’t want to join a place like this,” he explained. His white brushcut lost in the ceiling decor, Mr. Hues stood atop a chair outside the office, a tiny cluttered room off the bar where he booked the back hall for parties. Bensonhurst had a VFW (Post #7868—closed), but he grew up here.

Later on in our visit, friends gathered for a retirement party in the rented back hall ($350 plus drinks), a sparse room with a drop ceiling and florescent lights. A missing panel revealed the concrete joists overhead and the passing train bothered pool shots. No one seemed to mind.

Outside, a partygoer in shined shoes and a leather jacket yelled over the clacking of the train tracks into his cell phone. “I’m outside,” he said. “Yeah. Yeah. I can’t get reception in there.”

Back inside, four patrons sat at the bar cluttered with ashtrays, plastic lighters, packs of cigarettes, Daisy’s Diner take-out, and tall party cups of Jack-and-Coke. Ribbons hung over their heads. Patsy Cline and the Platters played on the jukebox.

The noise and booze and cigarette smoke belied the fact that VFW posts are sacred ground—a member’s only club that we had barged in on. Jimmy, a pale bald man with blue eyes that shone even in the dim light, was one of the Post’s two World War Two veterans, seated here most days and nights with an older woman in big glasses and a vintage pantsuit. “No one’s here,” she said to us. “No one wants to talk to you.”

This proved true. Soon after, Mike Hues, Anthony Nappi, and all other members stopped speaking as well. When a veteran stuck out his chest and told us to go, that was our cue to leave the place behind.

The 2014 Congressional Charter Bylaws state that a post’s charter will be revoked if the post has less than ten members. When this happens, members become members-at-large, or VFW members with no VFW. They can retain this status, or find a new post, though guest admission is up to each individual post. Thirty-five veterans are required to form a new post, though 25 must be new members instead of members from shuttered VFWs. Posts can also merge.

The fate of Post #9485 remains uncertain. Mr. Pascal said he had no recollection of the post canceling its charter, though it is no longer listed in the VFW’s state or national registry, and it appears as if the members simply picked up and left everything as is. While national bylaw dictates that a closed post’s property shall immediately pass to the state department, the signs out front remain. (“That’s very weird,” Zach Schwenk, an administrator at the VFW National Headquarters in Kansas City, said in a phone interview.)

Passersby can still call the number displayed out front. A phone rings inside, then goes to voicemail. “Hi,” a man’s voice says. “Veterans of Foreign Wars are located at 303 10th Street. Please leave your number and we’ll call you back as soon as possible. Thank you.”