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Council Approves Veterans Memorial Building Renovations

On November 21, the City Council directed staff to add commercial kitchen and hardwood floor renovations to its Veterans’ Memorial Building Facility Improvement Plan among projects planned through 2031-32. Local veterans have long advocated for improved facility maintenance and are eager to start using the kitchen for community events.

Alameda Veterans Memorial Building
Alameda Veterans Memorial Building. Photo City of Alameda.

Background

Built in 1929, the Veterans’ Memorial Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by noted local architect Henry H. Meyers, the two-story facility features Spanish Colonial Revival architecture enlivened with Art Deco details such as deco-style chandeliers.

The City took ownership of the facility from the County in 1996. Veterans groups, the Alameda Recreation and Parks Department (ARPD), and the Alameda Free Library all use the facility, and ARPD rents it to the public for events. The veterans use the east wing, ARPD uses the ballroom and basement for youth programs, and the Library operates the adult literacy program upstairs.



Per Resolution No. 12737, the City must provide a meeting place for the veterans according to the State Veterans Code. The resolution further commits the City to maintain the building. Since 2017, the City has spent over $800,000 on building maintenance and restoration, including roof repairs, lead abatement, front façade restoration, and new flagpole installation.

Proposed work

Veterans have advocated for additional maintenance and renovation. Some requested projects, such as Wi-Fi installation, have been completed and many others are included in the existing 10-year capital plan. This baseline plan, which supports existing building uses, includes projects such as painting, re-roofing, heater replacement, hot water installation in the bathrooms, auditorium hardwood floor restoration, parking lot repaving, ADA improvements, recarpeting, and fixture upgrades.

However, veterans also have requested restoration of hardwood floors in the billiard room and auxiliary auditorium, along with renovation and installation of a commercial kitchen at an additional cost of $547,000. The commercial kitchen would support new building uses such as cooking classes, pancake breakfasts, and possible catered events. However, the kitchen’s location one floor below the main auditorium poses logistical challenges to catering.

Alameda Post - the auditorium of the Veterans Memorial Building
The auditorium at the Veterans’ Memorial Building. Photo Yelp.

Public comment

Public speakers and correspondence supported the veterans’ request. Joe LoParo, Veterans Memorial Building Commission Chair, reminded Council that the kitchen and bar were operational when the City received the building from the County in 1996, and Council has not lived up to its responsibility to preserve the building as stipulated in Resolution 12737. He conceded that the veterans have no use for the bar in their activities and were not requesting its restoration.

Tod said the City should not characterize the work as improvements but as maintenance that should have been ongoing. He added that the building could be a fabulous space that fulfills a need in Alameda and argued that renovation should include restoring the bar.

Shelby said adding a kitchen would increase the facility’s value to the community and decried the lack of hot water in the bathrooms. Carmen argued that the restored facility could help the community do fundraising and support cottage industries.

Council comment

Councilmember Trish Herrera Spencer concurred that when the City took on the building, it accepted responsibility for caring for it. Vice Mayor Tony Daysog worried about “tugging too hard on fiscal discipline” but noted that the City is fortunately in a solid fiscal position and agreed that the veterans’ concerns had been held in abeyance for too long.

Councilmember Malia Vella favored refinishing the floors in the billiard room and auxiliary auditorium simultaneously with the main auditorium for cost efficiency. However, she wanted to postpone the discussion of the kitchen remodeling until the mid-year budget review to understand the fiscal trade-offs.

Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft agreed with Vella, noting that the location of the kitchen on a separate floor from the main auditorium limits its use by caterers, which would hamper cost recovery through rental. “We have to be realists and separate wants versus needs,” the Mayor said.

Final vote and next steps

The motion to direct staff to add commercial kitchen and hardwood floor renovations to its Veterans’ Memorial Building Facility Improvement Plan passed 3-2, with Vice Mayor Daysog and Councilmembers Herrera Spencer and Tracy Jensen voting in favor, and Mayor Ashcraft and Councilmember Vella voting against. Staff will request $547,000 from the General Fund as part of the mid-year budget review.

Other decisions

In other decisions, Council:

Contributing writer Karin K. Jensen covers boards and commissions for the Alameda Post. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at https://linktr.ee/karinkjensen and https://alamedapost.com/Karin-K-Jensen.

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