Veterans Memorial Building

Restoration and Re-Dedication

2012

 

During the month of April, 2012, activities surrounding the Veterans Memorial Building accelerated as openings on April 27 and April 28 were planned. After years of negotiations with Contra Costa County, various veteran and community groups and the Town of Danville, a restored building and grounds arose before people’s eyes.

The original Legion Hall had been completed in 1925 to honor veterans of the Great War. It was paid for by the County and became an all-purpose community building, serving the veterans, scouts and other local groups as a meeting place and social center. The Danville Library and Chamber of Commerce moved there in the first decade; municipal court sessions were held, and monthly dances with midnight meals from the American Legion Auxiliary took place for decades. After World War II, annual Legion Follies events help the veterans fundraise and are fondly remembered. There were poker parties in a very private room under the stage, crab feeds and parties -- and many discussions about how to take care of the aging Hall.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century. Veterans Halls throughout the County were showing their ages and neither the County nor the veterans had spent much to maintain them. Walnut Creek and Lafayette coveted the locations of their halls and, in concert with their veterans, agreed to build a new Hall for both communities west of Lafayette. The two historic halls were demolished for commercial buildings in Walnut Creek and for the new Lafayette Library.

This set the Danville veterans thinking, particularly a small coffee group which gathered daily in the middle of Old Town. Why not a new Hall for them? Perhaps they could tear down the historic hall, sell the land and build in another location just as the Walnut Creek and Lafayette veterans had done. Some pointed out Pleasanton’s Veterans Hall restoration as another option. Many scattered conversations and ad hoc investigations followed.

For years the Town of Danville had resisted putting improvement funds into the 1925 Hall since it was owned by the County (in trust for the veterans). Some improvements had been made, including installation of a large kitchen and handicapped access in 1978 and some 1997 renovations. The Town scheduled senior classes and other events in the building. At the corner of Prospect and Hartz Avenues, the building sat on a significant location directly in the center of Old Town. Meetings followed over a period of years which led to several actions. The County deeded the land and building to the Town and the Town worked to pull funds together and organized a lengthy decision-making process to study the building’s future. Meeting veteran and community needs was the focus.

In 2009 the Town Council decided to save the 2-story section of the 1925 Hall, demolish the rest of the building and build a modern facility for use by the veterans and the community, especially seniors. The building increased in size from 6,300 to 12,700 square feet. Ultimately the building cost $8.1 million dollars with funds coming from the Town’ general fund, a grant from the East Bay Regional Park District’s WW bond (2008), Housing and Urban Affairs, and the Veterans’ Development Committee.

The Architectural Resources Group, Inc. took the design lead, labeling the effort a “restoration”. Using “green” techniques, the floor was re-used, solar panels installed, and clerestory window-ventilation was installed. Decisions to remove the 50-year old redwoods along Prospect, to cover nearly the entire site with the building and to add verandas on the building front were made over the objections of critics. A new basement under the 2-story building was installed for storage.

People watched as parts of the building were demolished and the location was a construction site for many months; staging took place in the parking lot of the Danville Hotel Territory west of Hartz Avenue. In 2010 major theft of copper delayed the construction. Constant debates took place within the veterans groups and with the Town.

April 2012 arrived and Veterans Building finish work accelerated, watched with interest by everyone in town. The restored building included verandas facing Prospect with architectural details, a corner with a curved concrete backing and redwood seating, historic plaques in back of the concrete, landscaping, a huge flag pole, new street trees and an extensive courtyard on Prospect. Construction debris disappeared, all was washed down outside and cleaned inside, and the outside paint was touched up on Thursday late in the day. Exhibits in the new alcoves were installed from Tuesday to Friday, tables from veterans groups were set up in the large room and pictures of the Hall’s construction progress were shown on large screens.

At five p.m. on Friday evening, April 27, a Veterans Memorial Hall opening for veterans, donors and Town staff inaugurated the building. As might be expected, there was a military theme with Coast Guard Ret. Admiral Mary O’Donnell presiding. Veterans were recognized, an invocation given, ex-Mayor Karen Stepper spoke on the coffee-klatch beginnings of the restoration, a special flag was raised and an Army helicopter circled the building to salute the dedication. Visitors streamed into the front door to admire the inside, try the elevator, view the exhibits, celebrate and enjoy refreshments.

On April 28, the public was welcomed at 2 pm, on a perfect spring day. The program included Admiral O’Donnell as Master of Ceremonies who read a poem on Old Glory, invocation, presentation of the colors, national anthem, welcome by Mayor Candace Andersen, poem from Poet Laureate. Dignitaries including the Town Council, Congressman George Miller, State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, State Assembly Member Joan Buchanan, EBRPD Director Beverly Lane and veteran group representatives cut the ribbon across the front steps. Hundreds of people viewed the restored building, checked out the exhibits and offices, talked comfortably in the large hall (great acoustics in contrast to the old echoes), ate great food and praised it all.

The successful opening of the Veterans Memorial Building and Senior Center represents a significant milestone managed by the Town, in collaboration with San Ramon Valley veterans and Danville’s seniors. Town Manager Joe Calabrigo and the Council welcomed Contra Costa County’s Mayors Conference on Thursday, May 3, with justifiable pride.

 

Beverly Lane
April 29, 2012