In Portsmouth: A metamorphosis in the making

By Jim McGaw
Posted 9/7/23

PORTSMOUTH — Ken Rutter stands inside the shabby looking basement room of the VFW Post 5390 hall in Common Fence Point and knows there’s a lot of work to be done.

But with the …

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In Portsmouth: A metamorphosis in the making


PORTSMOUTH — Ken Rutter stands inside the shabby looking basement room of the VFW Post 5390 hall in Common Fence Point and knows there’s a lot of work to be done.

But with the help of the wider community, he’s confident that at some point, any adult will be able to walk in, enjoy a cold beer at the bar and a sandwich from the kitchenette, watch some TV and shoot the breeze — just like back in the old days. And with a new no-smoking policy in place, folks who used to avoid the hall will now want to come in and even bring their kids along, he said.

“It will be a more family-friendly atmosphere,” said Rutter, 75.

Although the top floor of the building has already been cleaned up and looks better than ever, the improvement project kicks into high gear on Saturday with a community cleanup event, led by Lindsay Taylor Castergini-Littlefield, planned from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the hall, located at 822 Anthony Road. 

Volunteers are needed during the event, which is being held the same day as The Sakonnet Coastal Bike and Stroll (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Participants in that event, however, could still help out at the VFW since the bike-and-stroll runs from Island Park to the entrance of Common Fence Point.

“We have to get rid of stuff so we can renovate,” said Rutter, adding that help is needed in moving furniture around — as well as taking some away. “We have a lot of stuff that needs to go in the dumpster, and we have stuff that needs a new home.”

To help fund the renovations, the VFW is relying on some money from the sale of two properties across the street, as well as rental fees for use of the hall. Conley Zani of the Common Fence Point Improvement Association (CFPIA), who was key to the transformation of that group’s community hall just down the street, rents space on the top floor for her pilates classes, for example.

But getting the bar back on its feet, however, is key to the hall’s survival. A big focus on Saturday’s efforts will be to gut the bar as a first step.

“Our moneymaker — what keeps us going — is the bar,” Rutter said.

Sprinklers needed

The VFW finds itself in sort of a Catch-22 situation, however. It needs cash flow to make the renovations, but that’s difficult to do when a fire code violation is keeping the organization from utilizing the building fully.

“The whole thing hinges on the fact that we need a sprinkler system,” said Rutter, who acknowledged the post “got caught with its pants down” about six months ago when it advertised an upcoming comedy night in the basement on an exterior sign. Fire department officials spotted it and put the kibosh on the event, he said.

The post is now dealing with the complexities and expense of putting in sprinklers, which could cost up to $80,000, said Mutter, who plans on appealing the decision to the state while more funds are raised.

A band was allowed to play there last month, he said, “but we had to hire somebody to stand by the door in case there was a fire. And that cost money to do that. In the meantime, we’re trying to upgrade as best we can.”

No smoking, please

Rutter said the decision to go smoke-free was mainly to make the hall more family-friendly.

“I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘Ken, I’d like to come over and have a drink at your bar, but they smoke in there and I don’t want anything to do with it.’ A lot of that,” he said.

After a typical meeting in the past, half of the members used to retreat to the upstairs bar, where smoking was allowed. The other half would get in their cars and go home. “That’s not camaraderie, that’s not discussing things off the table,” he said.

He hopes the new policy will show how welcoming the hall is to the wider community — and hopefully attract new and younger veterans, which has proven to be an uphill battle over the years. There are probably only “12 to 14” active members who come to the meetings, he said. Overall membership is at about 80, but the majority of those veterans live in Florida or elsewhere, he said.

“The Vietnam-era people took the place of the older veterans. Now we’re going away. Who’s to take our place?” Mutter asked. 

His own opinion? He believes due to the way the country has changed and the “problems in D.C.,” many younger veterans aren’t as pro-government as the old guard. “These guys went in, did their time and got out and they’re not going to get involved in anything that has to do with supporting the government,” he said.

Still, Mutter said he feels lucky to have “three or four active-duty military people involved here,” though he knows that’s not nearly enough to keep the hall going without reaching out more to the community.

CFPIA connection

Rutter said one major arm of the community, the CFPIA, has been particularly supportive.

“They donate their time, their effort. Yeah, they’ve thrown a dollar or two in our direction. They want to see us survive and progress. We can’t do it alone.”

Zani agreed that the CFPIA and surrounding neighborhood is rooting for the VFW hall’s revitalization. “From a CFPIA perspective, many many people in our neighborhood are excited to help the VFW since it’s a valuable community resource. We help them, they help us, and we can become very synergistic,” Zani said.

She hopes for a good turnout at Saturday’s event. “Anyone can come at any time, and we’ll hand you a sledgehammer,” said Zani, adding that the VFW also needs donations, so anyone’s welcome to drop by with a check.

“I’m very excited about the possibilities, and I’m happy for our veterans,” she said.

VFW Post 5390, CFPIA, Common Fence Point, VFW

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

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.