Mysterious Origin of Funds for Bob Hope Patriotic Hall’s Restoration

pullquoteBob 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 bobhopehallsomething 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?

4 Replies to “Mysterious Origin of Funds for Bob Hope Patriotic Hall’s Restoration”

  1. Nice article. Very informative. I only know the local as the place I used to see punk shows. It was showing it’s age in the early 90s and can use a remodel. It is odd that Molina’s release didn’t mention the source of funds.

  2. Hi Marc,
    don’t know if you ever knew Mario Casetta (‘the old ethnic’ @ KPFK) but he used to host folk dances there…I seem to remember going to a KPFK benefit gospel concert there sometime in the mid-80s also…a much younger (as we all were then) Harry Shearer was there, taping it.
    Hope it becomes more utilized than it has been. Given the byzantine politics in LA, who knows what plans have been made for it.

  3. The only time I’ve been to the Patriotic Hall was in 2000, for the Shadow Convention at the DNC–when I wasn’t running away from LAPD tear gas when they were illegally shutting down concerts and permitted gatherings. Fun times.

  4. Marn Haefele,

    I remember when I used to fact check your stories at the LA Weekly as an intern. I work as a public information writer with the LA County Fire Department now. Your story is good. As the commander of the Highland Park American Legion, I can assure you that they are renovating the kitchen and plumbing in order to make the facility more appealing to groups that rent the auditorium. Dance hall and auditorium rentals are the real nest egg when it comes to veteran service organization buildings.
    Colonel Joe Smith does an excellent job at running Patriotic Hall. Even after the worst turn for the us economy since the Great Depression, there are still hard-wroking veterans to make sure that the few buildings reserved for our use do not disappear. Any war veteran such as myself will agree with naming Patriotic Hall “Bob Hope Patriotic Hall,” because of all that Hope did for the troops over his lifetime. The USO at LAX is named after him as well.

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