Bob Hope Patriotic Hall is one of those odd, old downtown buildings south of the 10 Freeway that seem to belong to an era that never quite happened. It ‘s one of a scattering of big structures, pioneers of some long ago developmental lunge preempted in the `50s by the I-10’s construction. Its ornate top story, with pitched roof and classical details, surmounts an overdecorated, underutilized 10-floor stub of 1926 masonry. It has a great arched lobby, like something our of a Venetian palace. Its grabber detail, though, is its north-facing outside mural of the “Spirit of 1776”– you know: the drummer, the fifer and the other Revolutionary War guy, all in a perpetual stalled march up Figueroa Street toward Staples Center.
A few weeks ago, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina announced a $45 million renovation of this memorial to the nearly-extinct doughboy veterans of WW I. (God bless them all–my own late father-in-law included.) I’d hoped her plans would include some suggestions for more and better use of this handsome but obsolete facility, but not so….… Molina did promise a new kitchen and plumbing and that the renovated Hall would meet national LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design) standards. These standards are usually brought to new buildings at their planning stage and cost a whole lot to attain. I’ve never heard of them being applied to the rehabbing of an 83-year old masonry pile built in the dawn of America’s energy glut. So this part of the proposal sounds like trying to turn a 1926 Hupmobile into a plug-in hybrid.
Patriotic Hall has long been a structure in search of a day-to-day function. It’s got a library and a fine 660-seat auditorium (the perfect size for chamber music concerts and small elementary-school graduations, but not much else) and galleries of pictures and displays from America’s wars going back nearly 150 years. It also houses the American Society of Military History, LA Chapter No. 5 of Disabled Veterans, the LA County Council of the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and The Friends of Patriotic Hall. Not many tenants for a building this size.
The problem is location. The 1800 block of South Fig St. is far from Civic Center and well off the downtown tourist trail. And LA County veterans are served well enough by their local VFW and American Legion posts–plus the VA of course. The last time Patriotic Hall was really in the news was when it was renamed in 2003 after the late Bob Hope (My father-in-law, Capt. (ret’d) Min Hamilton of the Army’s 42nd “Rainbow” Division, would surely have preferred that it be renamed after his own 1917 commander, Gen. John J. Pershing). Before that, I recall its being used in the early `80s as a shelter for homeless veterans. Maybe that was its best-ever use. But you suspect the true purpose of this renovation is to create jobs, rather than to enhance a county public facility. The rehab plans had been lying around for a while and somehow the money was suddenly there. Now it will go into pay envelopes and the economy and help keep working people fed. That’s fine with me. These recession days, none dare say “Pork.”
But Molina’s press release didn’t offer a clue as to where that $45 million fixerup money suddenly came from. Asking elsewhere around the county offices, I discovered this is in fact, funding from the ARRA or ‘‘American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’’ – better known as the U.S. Stimulus Act that President Obama signed into law on February 17, 2009. It’s odd that Supervisor Molina, one of the region’s top Democrats, wouldn’t mention where her funding originated. And maybe–even– show some gratitude.
By contrast, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, a registered Republican, made it very clear earlier this year that $160 million in Stimulus funds now available to LA County for pure employment creation came right out of the ARRA. (These funds will make for 10,000 varied temporary jobs lasting at least until September 2010). Just last week, the county voted a couple more 7-figure public-works style programs, also confessedly funded with ARRA money. It’s not, you might think, something you’d want to hide.
Politics being what it is, the more you express your gratitude to the president and the members the congress people who got the act passed, the more likely you are to see more of said money. That apart, what’s wrong with the ancient custom of just saying “thank you?” Even if you happen to be the almighty Supervisor of LA County’s First District?