Thursday, May 3, 2012

Veterans' Center, 1902

A veterans' center has existed in Los Angeles since 1887, when the Santa Monica Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was established on 300 donated acres. Private George Davis, a Civil War veteran, moves from New York to become the first to live in the 25 buildings in 1888.

The Sawtelle Chapel was built in 1900--the oldest building on the site today. By then, 1000 veterans were living at the center. Today we call it the Wadsworth Chapel, after Brigadier General James Wadsworth, who was killed during the Battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War.

Want to see more pictures? A gentleman named George Garrigues has a whole website filled with century-old postcards and pictures.

The Wadsworth Chapel is Building #1 in the photo above and is also pictured at left. Today it's called Building 20 at times. Just to throw more numbers at you, it was 21 different types of windows.

When it was built in 1900, it was not painted white but had siding of stained redwood. Inside, it was designed (by J. Lee Burton) as a twofer--a Catholic chapel on one side, and a Protestant chapel on the other. Double-brick walls with 4 inches between them muffled sound so that services could take place at the same time.

The double chapel had to be closed after the 1971 Sylmar quake because of cracks and damage (the foundation is un-reinforced). Sine then, fires have burned holes in floors and pews and scorched the wainscoting, according to a 2007 Los Angeles Times article.

Restoration would cost upwards of $12 million, probably. No one wants to lose the place, but finding donors to fix it was a hard sell five years ago. And that was the last I find a mention.

"Strawberry Flag," has all sorts of historical tidbits about the buildings and history of the Veterans Center.


Will Campbell said...

You might be interested in knowing that the original veteran's center is literally ground zero for the ever-expanding fox squirrel population throughout Southern California. Prior to the center there weren't any of the non-native species here. But in the late 1800s-early 1900s they arrived, transported across the country by vets from the Civil and Spanish-American wars who brought the squirrels with them from their native Mississippi Valley habitats(presumably as a food source). Pretty much every fox squirrel you see here now can trace its ancestry back to those first squirrels who got free on those 300 acres of what's now the VA grounds.

Vix said...

Wow--that's the kind of trivia I love! How on earth did you come by that knowledge?

Will Campbell said...

Me, too! I think I first heard about it while golfing on the VA course about 10 years ago. I didn't really believe it until I got on the internet and found out more about it, one site of which was the (nos-closed) SoCal Fox Squirrel Project at