May 19, 2013

Photo Essay: Amongst the Abandoned at the Veterans Administration, LA

The Veterans Administration reportedly spends millions of dollars per year maintaining vacant - and potentially hazardous - buildings on their properties throughout the country.

This is especially evident if you visit their 400-acre Sawtelle campus in West LA, sandwiched in between Westwood and Brentwood along Wilshire Blvd. and San Vicente.

Because of heightened security, you can only get in now through the Wilshire Blvd. entrance, but you can get in.

You see, although portions of it are fenced off to the facing residential streets and sidewalks...

...the grounds themselves are not abandoned.

Newer, fully functional buildings intermingle with historic but neglected buildings that have outworn their welcome, outlived their usefulness. At least, to some.

Even though the land was donated in 1888 with the specific purpose of providing housing to war veterans (back then, dubbed "volunteer disabled soldiers"), which the VA did do for the first 100 years of its existence on the westside, Los Angeles still has the highest population of homeless veterans in the country.

Along these old city streets...

...whose new signs even look weathered...

...there are numbered buildings like barracks...

...their sidewalks consumed...

...their windows broken, their paint peeling, their entry verboten.

Even if not originally built as housing...

...couldn't these looming buildings be adaptively reused?

It's not as though their use is no longer needed (unlike the military barracks of, say, Governor's Island or Western Avenue, where everybody moved out but had somewhere else to go).

Instead of providing the housing it was intended to, the VA has made millions of dollars renting its parcels of land to commercial businesses. Veterans using the medical and mental health facilities - some traveling long distances instead of being allowed to stay - have shared a third of the campus with a golf course, a stadium and other athletic fields, two theaters, a barber shop, and even rental cars.

This is contrary to the stipulations of the original deed donating the land: to permanently maintain a home for disabled soldiers.

Wandering through buildings that populate the square mile of land - which has one of the lowest population densities not only on LA's Westside, but in the entire country - it's actually not always easy to tell which buildings are abandoned and unsafe, and which ones are still open.

Homeless people - veterans themselves, perhaps? - wander throughout.

Visitors are directed to buildings that no longer welcome visitors.

Entrances are sealed.

Numerical designations have lost their meaning.

And yet...

...trees and lawns are trimmed.

An occasional window swings open.

Stairs beckon climbing.

Gorgeous architectural details beckon gawking.

However, there is no parking.

Unlike the naval housing or, say, Rancho Los Amigos, you can walk right up to the buildings...

...touch them... their signs...

...rattle their locks...

...and peer into their windows.

But there are no cats to be found.

In some areas, save for the occasional maintenance worker in a golf cart...

...there are no people.

Even the post office has closed.

The battle over the VA grounds has been going on for years, culminating in a class-action lawsuit by the ACLU that objects to the conversion of parcels for commercial and recreational uses that are not in direct service to vets.

And despite promises to rehabilitate some of the existing buildings for future housing, not much progress has been made (though there is scaffolding visible and signs of a couple active construction - not demolition - sites).

map courtesy of the VA

Those vacant buildings that appear abandoned are plenty visible, but for some reason, the people who need to live in them - the abandoned veterans - are not.

Coming Soon:
Wadsworth Chapel and the Santa Monica Air Line Soldiers' Home Branch Streetcar Depot at the VA

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Abandoned Naval Housing, Western Avenue
Photo Essay: Rancho Los Amigos, Abandoned County Poor Farm, Downey (Exterior)

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