1887 Fund’s restoration efforts underway
By Kai McNamee
Five early 20th century buildings on the West Los Angeles VA Campus will soon be getting some love.
With planning beginning as early as 2015, the 1887 Fund, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization, has been working to restore five historic buildings on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ West Los Angeles campus. The buildings scheduled for renovation, including the famed Wadsworth Chapel, will be restored as close as possible to their original condition while being repurposed for 21st-century use. The project is part of the VA’s broader efforts to revitalize the campus and offer permanent housing to L.A. veterans, but land misuse and delays in construction have set the project back several years.
The 1887 Fund — whose mission is to “restore and revitalize the five original buildings on the West Los Angeles VA campus,” according to board member Dr. Jon Sherin — was founded by Carolina Barrie, a direct descendant of Arcadia Bandini de Baker. In 1887, de Baker and Senator John P. Jones donated the 300-acre property the West L.A. VA campus sits on today.
The 1887 Fund submitted its original Letter of Intent to The Office of the Secretary of Veterans on January 5, 2017. The proposal outlined the 1887 Fund’s plans to collaborate with the VA to restore the West LA campus’s Wadsworth Chapel, Trolley Depot, Hoover Barracks, Superintendent’s House and Governor’s Mansion. Under the supervision of the project’s architectural advisor, Johnson Fain, all five buildings will be retrofitted with code compliant internal infrastructure, such as electrical, heating and ventilation systems. Additionally, the project will repurpose some of the old buildings to serve modern functions: the Hoover Barracks will serve as a social center, the Superintendent’s House will be converted to a visitor and information center, and the Governor’s Mansion will potentially serve as a restaurant.
The Wadsworth Chapel is the centerpiece of the project. Built in 1900, the chapel is the oldest building on Wilshire Boulevard but has been closed since sustaining damage in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake.
“The chapel, to me, is the most visible and the mainstay of the property. If it were an open, functioning chapel for everyone, all denominations, it would be a clear hope for veterans,” Barrie said. “It was the heart of the property, and today it’s sitting there, it looks like it’s going to blow away.”
Although the 1887 Fund’s original proposal estimated construction would begin by July 1, 2017 and take “approximately 24 months to complete,” the project has suffered significant delays. In a letter submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Veterans September 7, 2017, the 1887 Fund amended its construction timeline, estimating the restoration would begin “approximately six (6) months following the parties’ execution of an Omnibus Development Agreement.” Furthermore, the collaboration between the VA and the 1887 Fund, which was only scheduled to last through January 5, 2018, was extended to December 31, 2020. Finally, a 2018 audit by the Office of the Inspector General found that 60 percent of the West L.A. campus’s leases were illegal; among the improper leases was the agreement between the campus and the 1887 Fund, which illegally granted the nonprofit permission to fundraise on VA property.
On April 29, 2019, the L.A. Times reported that the organization has still not broken ground on the restoration project, but progress will be much easier once a key environmental report is released in June.