Sunday, May 19, 2013
Photo Essay: Old Soldiers Home Chapel and Streetcar Depot, Closed
postcard courtesy of the VA
I first realized that the Veteran's Administration campus was showing signs of massive deterioration one of the first times I was driving down Wilshire (probably my favorite street in Los Angeles) near the National Cemetery, rounding the bend onto San Vicente. At the time, I had no idea I was in Sawtelle - not Westwood, not Brentwood - or in the former Racho San Vicente y Santa Monica. I only saw a decrepit chapel, its off-white paint buckling and cracking, and thought, "What is that? That is something."
Indeed, it is something. At least, it was.
The Wadsworth Chapel is actually a rare and early example of a multidenominational chapel: two separate chapels - a Catholic one and a Protestant one - under one roof, separated by a soundproof interior wall (so both faiths could conduct services simultaneously, neither having a preferential time slot).
It is the oldest existing building on Wilshire Boulevard.
Built in 1900, the exterior shingles were originally stained dark, with windows trimmed in white, until the entire structure was painted white in 1941.
The paint is peeling and the fixtures are rusted...
...but that's only the beginning of the troubles facing Wadsworth Chapel.
A structure made nearly entirely of wood, it is constantly under attack by termites.
It is built upon an unreinforced foundation.
Although many of its original late Victorian features - eclectic exterior ornamentation (evoking both Gothic and Romanesque influences), roundels, lunettes, multiple types of windows, wainscoting, etc. - remain intact...
A 1955 fire damaged the Protestant Chapel, forcing parts of it to be walled off and/or closed altogether. Most of the structural damage is still unrepaired.
The 1971 Sylmar earthquake sealed the chapels' fate, cracking interior plaster and loosening the brick foundation, rendering one of the bell towers unstable.
Wadsworth Chapel has been closed to the public ever since.
Six years ago, the VA estimated that restoration of their Building 20 would cost $11.5 million.
In the meantime, they have left a staggering number of modern day "old soldiers" homeless, and generated revenue from the commercialization of their 400 acres. Thing is, nobody seems to know where that money went.
Like the attempts to restore many of the other structures on the VA campus, preservation of the chapel has been stalled...perhaps indefinitely.
Designed in conjunction with Wadsworth Chapel, the streetcar depot at the VA was also designed by J. Lee Burton and built in 1900. Both were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, one year after the Sylmar earthquake closed the chapel permanently. At that time, the depot was already closed.
Building 66 was formerly the terminus of the Santa Monica Air Line's Soldier's Home Branch (named after the Old Soldier's Home), passenger service on which was eliminated in 1953
...rendering the station obsolete.
It stands empty now...
...but it does stand.
You can't get in, but you can look in, and you can get right up to it.
No trains run through Sawtelle now. But with the new construction of the Expo Line, maybe they will again...one day.
In the meantime, both the chapel and the streetcar depot are still-standing reminders of very early Los Angeles, a relatively new city with not a lot of historic preservation, known better for building anew rather than for celebrating its past.
Photo Essay: Amongst the Abandoned at the Veteran's Administration, LA
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