History

 

Veterans Memorial Building – Walnut Creek

In 1922, shortly after World War I, the Congress of the United States enabled a means whereby, in conjunction with the States and their Counties, Veterans Memorial Buildings (VMBs) could be established throughout the United States. These buildings are intended to honor and memorialize the nations’ war dead and to serve as meeting places for the various Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) that were organized both before and after that war. These buildings were initially owned by the counties and leased to the Veterans for a nominal amount.

One of the first VMBs was in Walnut Creek with construction started in 1924. Located at the southeast corner of Lafayette Boulevard (now Mt. Diablo Boulevard) and Locust Streets the building fronted on Lafayette Boulevard and was a rather plain utilitarian structure. This VMB was dedicated on 8 February 1925 by Walnut Creek Post 115 of the American Legion (A.L.).

Original 1925 Building

Original 1925 Building

After the Walnut Creek Town Hall was razed in 1928 the VMB also served as a Community Center and venue for Saturday night dances. The old Walnut Creek Elementary school held graduation ceremonies there and In 1934 Boy Scout Troop 202 began using the hall for meetings.

Original Building Approximately 1935

Original Building Approximately 1935

After World War II it was decided to relocate and expand the building to another site south and in the middle of the block on Locust Street mid-way between (now) Mt. Diablo Boulevard on the north and Olympic Boulevard on the south. The new site faced west at 1250 Locust Street and is down sloping to the east from the street. The relocation involved constructing an entirely new lower level and then placing the original building upon the center of the new structure and extending both ends of the original structure to cover the new lower level. The result was a much improved meeting facility with an adequate kitchen, storage, and various meeting and dining facilities. This project was completed in late 1948. The upper (second) floor was a large meeting/ballroom and in the 1960’s housed the Walnut Creek-Danville Municipal Court. It also served as the City Council Chambers, as a civic-community center, as a venue for USO dances, and a variety of other uses.

Building Circa 1948

Building Circa 1948

As Walnut Creek grew and developed the VMB site became more and more “prime” due to its proximity to the downtown core area. In 1982 the city made an attempt at redevelopment but this was stopped by No Growth Measure H. Veteran Terry Murphy belonged to A.L. Lafayette Post 517 when he also became a founding member of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 8063 in 1981. Soon thereafter, being in the real estate business, he transferred to A.L. Post 115 in Walnut Creek to assist that post in negotiations with the City of Walnut Creek regarding the disposition of the Walnut Creek building. The Walnut Creek veterans wanted to be made whole in return for giving up their building and this was unacceptable to the city. Negotiations came to a halt and the status quo prevailed until 2006.

Meanwhile, due to a lack of County funds for maintenance, the VMB deteriorated to a point where much of the building became unsafe. In 2000 the City issued a proclamation honoring the 75th anniversary of the original building. Several years later Walnut Creek negotiated with Contra Costa County and the veterans to buy the property as the building was obsolete and unsafe for use by the veterans.. This purchase required the Walnut Creek veterans to vacate the building and join with the Lafayette War Veterans, Inc. in the new Veterans Memorial Building in Lafayette.

Title to the Walnut Creek Veterans Memorial Building was finally transferred from Contra Costa County to Walnut Creek and the building was razed in August of 2006. The property was acquired by Walnut Creek as part of its current redevelopment effort. The sales proceeds went, in part, toward the new Veterans Memorial Building in Lafayette and, in part, toward the upkeep of other Veterans Buildings throughout the County. The Walnut Creek building had served the Veterans and the community for 80 years.

 

Veterans Memorial Building – Lafayette

Financed by State bond money the Lafayette Veterans Memorial Building was located at the SE corner of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and First Street and constructed during the period 1938-1939 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. Much of the interior finish labor was provided by Lafayette American Legion Post 517 and the building was dedicated by Post 517 in mid-1939.

Front of Building 1939

Front of Building 1939

As was the case in Walnut Creek title to the property vested with Contra Costa County. The county then leased the property to the veterans for a nominal rent with the veterans responsible for managing the property and paying the operating expenses. In order to meet these obligations the building was rented out to a variety of non-veteran users for various civic and community events.

Front and Side of Building 1939

Front and Side of Building 1939

With the advent of WW II, Korea, and Vietnam, veteran membership and activity at the building steadily grew over the next 35 years. In addition to veterans activities the building was used for civic meetings and functions, senior citizen functions, business, fraternal, and other community meetings and functions.

In 1972 a local Senior Citizens advocate took it upon himself to launch a campaign to have the title and management of the property transferred from the County and veterans to the City of Lafayette at no cost. Over the next 15 years he was able to garner the support of various mayors and city council members who sought the increasingly desirable property for general civic and community uses. They claimed they could better manage the property and accused the veterans’ management of everything from being drunken poker players to the harassment of senior citizens. Other charges were failure to properly maintain the building, poor sanitary conditions, poor financial record keeping, and general incompetence. Investigations were conducted and, in the long run. none of the charges proved true but, as a result, many years of acrimony resulted.

Up to 1981 Lafayette Post 517 of the American Legion was the only veterans service organization housed at the building. That year Lafayette Post 8063 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars was formed, chartered, and began meeting at the building. It joined the Board and, over time, acquired full membership and representation on the Board.

Basic building maintenance was neglected due to a lack of county funds. In late 2001 veteran Drew Holland and his wife Susan took the bull by the horns and voluntarily did what they could to clean, paint, and do minor repairs to the interior of the building. They continued this service, in addition to managing the use of the building, until the relocation to the new building in late 2005. Regretfully, Susan Holland developed a serious illness in 2007 and passed that year. Her memorial service was held in the new Veterans Memorial Building.

Once the new building was complete the veterans moved during the winter of 2005-2006. Once the move was completed the County vested title of the original property to the City of Lafayette. The old veterans building was immediately razed and construction of a new library building soon began.

The New Veterans Memorial Building in Lafayette

In 1996 the City of Lafayette began expressing serious interest in the veterans building site for a new library when it quietly commissioned a survey and topographic study of the parcel. The intent was to obtain title, possibly through eminent domain proceedings.

Once the veterans became fully aware of the plan they appointed veteran Terry Murphy as their representative to the city. As such, Mr. Murphy met with the city and explained the site and building were owned by Contra Costa County. He also explained that eminent domain did not apply due to a 1973 law dedicating all veterans buildings to the primary use of veterans and that the veterans have veto power over other uses without permission of the veterans. Terry Murphy and Building Board President Arthur Miller were appointed by the Building Board to represent the veterans on the Library Committee.

The Lafayette negotiations continued with the City finally proposing a Redevelopment Agency project to make the veterans whole with a new building on a 1.28 acre site at the NE corner of Mt. Diablo Boulevard and Risa Road on the western fringe of downtown Lafayette. The site was valued at approximately $600,000 and the redevelopment agency took title in 1998.

In 1999 Field-Paoli of San Francisco was commissioned as the building architect and worked with the city and the veterans to design the new building. After a long design process requiring approval by a contentious City Council bids were finally solicited resulting in a total cost of $7.6million including a $5.4 million building plus the site, design, and administrative costs. The new building was awarded the 2005 California Cities Helen Putnam Award for Excellence.

At this point the Walnut Creek veterans were not involved as they were hoping to negotiate their own separate arrangement with their city. Also, during the 2002-2003 time period, the Contra Costa Council of the Navy League and Mt. Diablo Detachment 942 of the Marine Corps League joined the original Lafayette Veterans Building as members of the Building Board as their previous meeting facilities proved inadequate to accommodate their growth.

The construction contract was won by McCrary Construction Company of San Francisco and the Ground Breaking ceremony was held on 22 April 2004 with Board President Art Miller presiding. After a 13 month construction period the New Veterans’ Memorial Building was dedicated on Memorial Day 2005 by the five VSOs headquartered there at that time – American Legion Walnut Creek Post 115 and Lafayette Post 517; VFW Lafayette Post 8063; Marine Corps League , Mt. Diablo Detachment 942; and, the Contra Costa Council of the Navy League. Completion of construction and punch list items took another six months with the veterans moving from the old building during the winter of 2005 – 2006. Once the move was completed the County vested title in the old building to the City of Lafayette which razed the old building for construction of a new library.

The new building is operated under an arrangement similar to the two original buildings.  A building board known as Lafayette War Veterans, Inc. (LWV) was incorporated in 1958 as a non-profit Veterans Service Organization. Each VSO meeting at the VMB Lafayette has voting seats on the board.

The LWV, Inc. leases the building at a nominal rent from the County of Contra Costa and is responsible for the management, operation, and maintenance of the building.

In order to meet its lease obligations the LWV rents the building to the public for non-veteran uses when not being utilized by the VSOs and the veterans.