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Santa Monica Museum tells the tale of LA's Old Soldiers' Home

A nurse with 102-year-old Civil War veteran Joe Manning at Wadsworth Hospital in 1948.
A nurse with 102-year-old Civil War veteran Joe Manning at Wadsworth Hospital in 1948.
Courtesy of the Santa Monica History Museum, Bill Beebe Collection
A nurse with 102-year-old Civil War veteran Joe Manning at Wadsworth Hospital in 1948.
Photos of movie stars and U.S. Presidents who visited the Old Soldiers Home in Westwood over the years.
KPCC/John Ismay
A nurse with 102-year-old Civil War veteran Joe Manning at Wadsworth Hospital in 1948.
President Taft at the Old Soldiers’ Home in 1909.
Courtesy of The Bandini Family Collection
A nurse with 102-year-old Civil War veteran Joe Manning at Wadsworth Hospital in 1948.
President McKinley preparing to give remarks at the Old Soldiers’ Home Dining Hall, 1901
Courtesy of The Bandini Family Collection
A nurse with 102-year-old Civil War veteran Joe Manning at Wadsworth Hospital in 1948.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt visit the Old Soldiers’ Home, 1935.
Courtesy of Santa Monica History Museum, Bill Beebe Collection
A nurse with 102-year-old Civil War veteran Joe Manning at Wadsworth Hospital in 1948.
Admission Papers for Private Edward Davidson, a Civil War veteran, 1889.
Courtesy of The Bandini Family Collection
A nurse with 102-year-old Civil War veteran Joe Manning at Wadsworth Hospital in 1948.
World War 2-era uniforms on display in the newly-opened Old Soldiers Home exhibit at the Santa Monica History Museum.
KPCC/John Ismay
A nurse with 102-year-old Civil War veteran Joe Manning at Wadsworth Hospital in 1948.
Jimmy Stewart Visits WWI Veteran at Wadsworth Hospital, 1969.
Courtesy of the Santa Monica History Museum, Outlook Collection
A nurse with 102-year-old Civil War veteran Joe Manning at Wadsworth Hospital in 1948.
The dining Hall at the Old Soldiers’ Home with veterans gathered on the open porch, circa 1890s.
Courtesy of The Bandini Family Collection


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Walk into the Santa Monica History Museum's newly-opened Old Soldiers' Home exhibit, and you'll get an idea of how central the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus has been to the area's development.

It's been home to thousands of vets, it's hosted celebrities and U.S. presidents, and, according to museum archivist Sara Crown, it's also responsible for the creation of the neighborhoods that surround it.

Sara Crown is the archivist of the Santa Monica History Museum, which just opened a new exhibit called
Sara Crown is the archivist of the Santa Monica History Museum, which just opened a new exhibit called "The Old Soldiers' Home: A Veterans Community by the Sea." It tells the story of the Westwood veterans campus from its inception in 1887.
KPCC/John Ismay

The story begins back in 1887, when the U.S. government was looking for a spot west of the Rocky Mountains where it could build a retirement community for thousands of military veterans.

It selected an area comprising nearly 400 acres of walnut groves, bean fields and fruit orchards in what is present day Westwood. The land was donated by three prominent landowners: Sen. John P. Jones, Arcadia Bandini de Baker, and John Wolfskill.

Today it's the site of the VA campus.

Of all of the photos on display, one stands out to Crown.

"I think my favorite item is the photograph of the 102-year-old Civil War veteran," Crown said. "He is having a checkup done by a nurse in 1948."

That's right: the campus' old Wadsworth Hospital was treating Civil War veterans, here in L.A., into the late 1940s.

Crown says the houses that made up the Old Soldiers' Home were beautiful.

H.F. Rile photograph of the grounds and Barracks Buildings at the Old Soldiers’ Home, circa 1892.
H.F. Rile photograph of the grounds and Barracks Buildings at the Old Soldiers’ Home, circa 1892.
Courtesy of The Bandini Family Collection

"The original buildings at the home were Victorian style, so they were quite elaborate," Crown said. "They had turrets, and large porches surrounding the entire building so the men could sit outside and enjoy the breeze."

There are photos of those old buildings, as well as pictures of some of the campus’ famous more visitors – including stars like Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope and Josephine Baker, along with Presidents McKinley, Taft, and Franklin Roosevelt visited too.

The exhibit is open to the public through Jan. 18th, 2017. Admission for veterans and active-duty military is free.