Deco Discoveries: Neighborhood Gems Hiding in Plain Sight (Westwood VA Campus)

Mess Hall, Sawtelle Veterans Administration

ImageIn 1927, an arsonist began his blazing spree with a fire that destroyed the kitchen and mess hall at the Veterans Home at Sawtelle. Since the fire began shortly after the men finished their evening meal, there were no reported injuries, and certainly no fatalities. A heavy fog and absence of wind allowed firefighters to save nearby buildings, but the mess hall was a total loss. A motion picture, to be produced by Louis B. Mayer, showing the ashy ruins and antiquated buildings was planned to acquaint President Coolidge and members of Congress with the urgent need for modern, fire-resistant buildings.

ImageBy August 1928, funds had been procured, and Koerner and Gage, the architects who also designed Beverly Hills City Hall, had drawn up plans for a reinforced concrete structure in what William J. Gage described as "modern monumental American Gothic." The side wings housed mess halls, while the center was complete with bakery, kitchen, and ice cream manufacturing rooms. Second floors functioned as dormitories for 112 employees.

During the Twenties, the Pacific Branch, National Soldiers' Home at Sawtelle was one of the most popular in the country, with veterans vying to be among the 3000 aided on 700 acres of sunny California land. It was estimated that approximately 35 percent had served during the Civil War, but they were being rapidly replaced by those who fought in World War I. By Christmas 1928, amid festivities that include carols sung by U.C.L.A. girls to the hospitalized men, and an appearance in the theatre by Tom Mix, veterans were able to enjoy dinner in their brand new mess hall.