Veterans' Memorial Building - Santa Maria CA
The Veterans’ Memorial Building was constructed in 1934-36 with financial aid from the federal Public Works Administration (PWA) and unemployed workers drawn from the State Emergency Relief Administration (SERA), which was funded largely by federal government assistance.
It is a beautiful example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, designed by local architect Rudolph Polley. It features a bell tower, a large auditorium, a serene courtyard and some interior detailing. It is in excellent condition to this day (2019).
A park was laid out at the same time across the street, using county funds and probably relief workers, as well.
The building (and park) passed from county to city control in 1982, and now serves as the Veterans’ Memorial Cultural Center for the community of Santa Maria.
It is ironic that the building was the brainchild and serves as the home of the local American Legion, since that group has never been enthusiastic for the New Deal.
There is a plaque that explains the origins, funding and design of the building, as well as its present status.
From the Santa Maria Times:
On Nov. 17, 1930, Santa Barbara County acquired 5.5 acres of land for $6,300 to be used as a site for the construction and operation of a veterans’ memorial building and park. This resulted from extensive campaigning by the Corporal Marshall N. Braden Post No. 56 of the American Legion in conjunction with C.L. (Leo) Preisker, chairman of Santa Barbara County’s Board of Supervisors. With the country being deep in the middle of the Great Depression, the supervisors knew that such a project would require money that they simply didn’t have. Major federal funding was a necessity.
Through Preisker’s efforts, help finally came on July 3, 1934, with this endeavor being the first-approved project in the county under the new Emergency Relief Administration.
Using relief labor (50 cents to $1 per hour) architect Rudolph Polley and superintendent A.M. Hanson directed the construction. Supporting them were Legionnaires Dick Doane, Paul Markling, Fred May and Henry Tilley. Architect Polley designed the structure in the Spanish-revival style, with a dominant interior featuring an attractive auditorium that could accommodate up to 1200 people.
Financing during the three-year period amounted to $285,000 with $210,000 coming from federal funds, $75,000 from the county and $10,000 coming from the Public Works Administration.* In 1936, the county provided an additional $2,500 to start work on a memorial park on the property.
The first dedication, celebrating the completion of the Legionnaires’ unit on the south end of the complex, took place Feb. 20, 1935.
The program began with the advancement of colors by Elroy Gamble, Charles Howard, Ralph Tuthill and DeWitt Hogle wearing uniforms representing the different branches of the military. Violet Lloyd, Sue Stenner, Ursula Botiller, Jeanette Sweet and Besse Brown represented the auxiliary.
Mrs. Hilda Hockettt, president of the auxiliary, was escorted to the platform by Fred Botiller, Legion sergeant-at-arms, after which a trio composed of Mrs. Henry Tilley, Mrs. Merle Willits and Mrs. Iris Dailey, accompanied by Mrs. Harry Takken, led the audience in singing the song, “America.”
Following the community singing, supervisors C. L. Preisker and Sam J. Stanwood (of Santa Barbara), were led to the platform, followed by Santa Maria Mayor Marion Rice and city councilmen Charles Bates, Merle Willits and A.A. Dudley. Supervisor Preisker, the program’s keynote speaker, then stepped up to the podium.
“Ever since the Civil War, the people of the United States have desired some way to show veterans of the wars their appreciation for what they have done for the country,” he said.
Preisker went on to tell of the building of memorial halls, two of which were in the Santa Maria Valley, with the first one having been built in Guadalupe.
Following his speech, and during an open house and public inspection of the building, Preisker presented the key of the first completed unit for Santa Maria’s new Veterans’ Memorial Hall to Commander Marvin Andrews of the local American Legion post. Andrews reciprocated by giving Preisker a gold key to the club rooms.
Guests were entertained throughout the night with musical numbers by William, Fred and Henry Scott, Fred Fairbanks and Joe Bravo, dressed in Spanish costumes. Punch was served by members of the junior auxiliary.
The evening was concluded with dancing to the music of John Amaral’s orchestra.
The second celebration, marking the completion of the entire facility, was appropriately held on Memorial Day in 1936.
(Note: the dollar figures provided in this article don’t add up, and the $210,000 in federal funds was surely from the PWA).
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Shirley Contreras, "Legion, vets halls get start during Depression," Santa Maria Times, November 3, 2013
Project originally submitted by Doug Jenzen on June 23, 2010.
Additional contributions by Richard A Walker.
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