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.
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.
"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.