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Another Save! San Diego Veterans War Memorial Building

By Alexander D. Bevil

Top Photo by Jim Brady; bottom Photo by Alexander D. Bevil

"No one is ever gone as long as someone still has memories of them." - Charles Edward Worthington (1916-1996), U. S. Army, P.O.W., Burma, 1942-1945.

On the morning of June 24, 2000, a small group of concerned citizens assembled on the brick terrace in front of the San Diego Veterans' War Memorial Building in Balboa Park. They were celebrating the building's 50th anniversary by rededicating a building whose purpose and significance were slowly being eroded by time. In fact, the group, composed mainly of representatives of several local veterans groups, SOHO, along with other local park preservationists and a smattering of public officials, were also celebrating a personal victory.

They had lobbied successfully against the nearby San Diego Zoo from expanding its parking lot out onto the section of Balboa Park where the building now stands. A key part of their campaign was having the building successfully placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Through this action, the Secretary of the Interior officially recognized it as an important local historic resource worthy of preservation.

The building was placed on the National Register because it represents a local interpretation of a "Living Memorial Building," a publicly owned building where veteran and other civic groups could meet, recreate, and socialize so that "patriotism might be renewed and gratitude nourished." Influenced by the nation-wide Living Memorial Movement of the mid to late 1940's, it is a surviving local example of hundreds of other municipal war memorial buildings built nationwide during the post-war period.Architecturally important, it was one of the first public buildings designed in the Contemporary Modern style in San Diego. Its abstract style, use of modern building materials, and relationship to its site would serve as the prototype for a number of local public facilities, mainly suburban neighborhood schools, libraries, and administration centers built between 1950 and 1970. The building is also an important part of the body of work produced by noted San Diego architects Samuel W. Hamill and John S. Siebert, who, along with its builder, Francis E. Young, have made important contributions to San Diego's architectural heritage.

While the greatest threat to the building, the San Diego Zoological Society's proposed parking lot expansion, appears to have been rescinded, it does not guarantee that the building has been saved.

Why? Nothing is guaranteed. The Zoological Society could change its mind. Deferred maintenance or insensitive repairs on the City's part could also threaten the building's historic integrity.

That is why I would like to initiate the following: Raise funds for the installation of a bronze National Register plaque. Metaphorically, the plaque will say "hands off" to those seeking to demolish it.

For my part, I will incorporate the building as part of my curriculum in teaching a course in Historic Preservation at San Diego's New School of Architecture. Besides introducing the building to a new generation of architectural students, I will have the opportunity to monitor the building's condition.

I would like to invite SOHO members and others to visit the building, especially on its upcoming 51st anniversary. I also invite them to visit it on the anniversaries of other important events where San Diegans have fought and given their lives: Midway, Iwo Jima, Bastogne, Chosin, Khe Sanh, and the Persian Gulf.

By doing so, we will continue to keep the building in our memories, long after those of San Diego's "Greatest Generation" have faded.

2001 - Volume 32, Issue 2


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