RIVERSIDE: Vets’ home is where the heart is

RIVERSIDE: Vets’ home is where the heart is

A $14.1 million project is turning a WWII officer’s club into the center of an innovative, affordable housing complex for disabled veterans.

~I love this idea and hope they can do this with more unused armed forces buildings~

 Councilman Jim Perry, left, and contractor's superintendent Jim Watson, in what will be, the renovated officers club at the former Camp Anza on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Councilman Jim Perry, left, and contractor’s superintendent Jim Watson, in what will be, the renovated officers club at the former Camp Anza on Wednesday, Sept. 16.


What: Affordable housing complex with services for disabled veterans and their families

Who: Low-income veterans disabled during service are eligible.

Apartments: Two- and three-bedroom units, most in single-story buildings. Two-story buildings have elevators. Rent is $347 to $872.

Amenities: Restored World War II Army Officers Club, lap pool, exercise and computer rooms, on-site laundry and community garden

To apply: wake landhdc.com/anza or 951-840-9351

A World War II officer’s club at a long-shuttered military base is morphing into a new center of hope and healing for veterans in an innovative Riverside housing project expected to open early next year.

The Camp Anza Officers Club, with its huge dance floor, tiki room and paintings of Polynesian beauties, was the site of send-off parties for thousands of officers leaving for combat in the Pacific.

The massive building, which sat at the heart of a vital U.S. Army troop staging area, is undergoing a renovation to make it the centerpiece of the Home Front at Camp Anza.

The $14.1 million project by San Diego-based Wakeland Housing and Development Corp., Mercy House of Santa Ana and Riverside’s housing authority will offer affordable apartments for 29 disabled vets and their families and on-site services to keep them together.

On a tour of the area Wednesday, Riverside City Councilman Jim Perry said the effort to help returning war vets also will revitalize one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods by breathing new life into an important piece of its past.

“This is a tremendous project for, not only our veterans, but a neighborhood at the same time,” he said. “A lot of people who live in the neighborhood don’t fully understand the history around them.”

The historic clubhouse will function as the complex’s community center, offering services tailored to vets and a place for relaxation and meetings. Vets will work with a full-time case manager provided by Mercy House.

Vets will get on-site physical therapy, job coaching and placement, and classes on civilian life skills and financial literacy. They will be connected with Veterans Affairs benefits and vocational training or higher education, said Mercy House Executive Director Larry Haynes.

For vets and their families, there will be on- and off-site behavioral and mental health support, conflict resolution, financial assistance, tutoring and school supplies for kids.

“We want to do everything we can to stabilize households,” said Haynes, who spent his youth in the working-class Arlanza neighborhood.

He said he’s “super-stoked” to be part of a project that’s “reclaiming part of our lost past – what I would think is a real jewel for the city.”

Still standing

The renovation began last December. The structure, which went dark when the camp closed in 1946, had sat abandoned after serving as a Moose lodge until sometime in the 1990s.

On Wednesday morning, hammers pounded inside the club as crews working for Wakeland’s contractor, Sun Country Builders in Vista, installed dry wall.

Until recently, the sound of hammers clattering inside the 15,000-square-foot building at Picker Street and Trey Avenue may have seemed unlikely.

City officials considered the vandalized, graffiti-ridden building an eyesore and put it on a demolition list in 2008, said former Arlanza resident Frank Teurlay, author of “Riverside’s Camp Anza and Arlanza.”

That plan was abandoned when Teurlay, learning of the club’s intended fate, drove 400 miles from his San Francisco Bay Area home to argue for the club’s preservation in a meeting with then-Ward 6 Councilwoman Nancy Hart. The city manager agreed.

In a 2011 or early 2012 brainstorming session with new Deputy Development Director Emilio Ramirez, city housing staff proposed using the city-owned club and 2.5 acres of surrounding property for a housing project, with services to help disabled vets stay with their families.

The nearly 70-year-old Officers Club is one of the camp’s few remaining central structures. The officers’ headquarters, laundry and the camp church also still stand. Some of the barracks are being used as homes.

Built in 1942, the club had a lounge bar called the Tiki Room, with tropical murals painted by Italian POW Federico Ferrari. Actors Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz and Bob Hope visited the camp, where the club boomed with big band music while up to 250 couples swing- danced.

Preservation underway

The two-story military-style building has a clerestory to let in fresh air and light and a ballroom surrounded by a second-story mezzanine.

The renovation has uncovered a surprising amount of the original materials behind changes made by the Moose Lodge: the exterior’s cedar siding, which sat under 5 inches of stucco; the ballroom’s Douglas fir floor, beneath parquet; the original brick fireplace; and giant trusses and beams above acoustic ceiling tiles, Wakeland Project Manager David Hetherington said.

Those changes protected the abandoned building from graffiti and the elements. The building is being restored to meet national historic register criteria. The city may apply for state historic landmark status, he said.

“It’s going to be a really beautiful and interesting preservation,” he said.

The wood siding was removed and refurbished. Half was salvageable and reinstalled in front, and new siding was put in back. Wood-frame, double-paned windows were installed and original light fixtures are being reused. The building will be painted military green.

The south end of the ballroom, where soil had settled, was reinforced with a new foundation that improves seismic performance of a building that has withstood earthquakes. Plywood was added under the replaced exterior siding to provide structural support, Hetherington said.

The wheelchair-accessible club will house an exercise room, computer room, history room, laundry and administrative offices.

Construction is also underway on one- and two-story apartment buildings and soon will begin on a lap pool and playground. Applications still are being taken for two- and three-bedroom apartments that are handicapped-accessible. There will be an on-site manager.

The city housing authority sold Wakeland the property, which had been owned by the city’s redevelopment agency, for $1, said city housing project coordinator Shonda Herold.

The project is being financed with $10.5 million generated by federal low-income housing tax credits, about $1,123,000 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME grants, a bank loan and about $83,000 in solar business investment tax credits.

Solar panels installed on the club should have minimal visual impact, she said.


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