“Every memorial building that I have ever been to had a real nice place to meet and talk and host events,” said Martinez, who is retired from the Marine Corps. “But what we had was a basement that looked like a garage sale gone bad. It was time to make some changes.”
Understanding that economic times are tough right now, Martinez set to work a few months ago, recruiting local talent to help create a warmer, more welcoming lounge area in which veterans can relax and socialize.
What he got was an impressive punch list of supplies and items that are slowly replacing the remnants of more than 80 years of smoke and cobwebs, while leaving the memories and mementos of lifetimes lived and lost in the service of their country.
“What we’re trying to do is create an environment where our veterans want to come and hang out,” said Martinez. “A place where we can talk about things. There is a bond among veterans that no one else has. There are things that we have done that no one else understands, and we want to have a nice place where they can come and be together.”
The new look will include the resurfacing of the walls and floors and the construction of two bars – including one for handicapped veterans – a poker table that can be covered to double as a conference table, a pool table and the creation of a work station area with office desks and partitions. A wheelchair lift will be installed to improve access to the re-vamped room.
“We would also like to replace the old furniture and get a nice leather couch, a flat-screen television and create a comfortable area to sit down and relax in,” said Martinez. “So far we’ve had paint and lumber donated, my neighbor Toni Vornhagen, who is an interior architect, did the design, and all the work has been done by volunteers who come out every Saturday and do what needs to be done.”
George Martinez (no relation to Dave) is in charge of the upstairs projects, which include restroom renovations – Latrine Lieutenant Duty, as he calls it – as well as new front doors and a handicapped-accessible ramp at the entrance.
“We're redoing the restrooms so that they can be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant,” said George. “We’re expanding the bathroom areas because they were so tiny it was impossible to turn a wheelchair around in there. It’s going to make a big difference.” While the renovations are separate projects – the basement remodel, which is funded exclusively through community and private donations; and the restroom, front doors and handicap ramp, which were paid for primarily through government grants – both will considerably upgrade the look and feel of the facility.
And attract more community business: “When everything is all done, it will not only be more accessible but it’ll be more attractive to the community as a facility, and we hope that we’ll get more rentals and income,” said George. “We really serve the community and hopefully when this is completed we can invite groups like the disabled veterans organizations to come and enjoy the hall.”
Built in 1925, Veterans Hall was established to serve as a historical sanctuary for former, current and future veterans as well as a social foundation for community and veterans groups. The upkeep and maintenance of the facility is taken care of by the Brentwood Veterans Memorial Building Inc. board of trustees; a nonprofit organization comprising six members of the Marine Corp League, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. Dollars raised through events or donations are used for the care, upkeep and repair of the First Street building.
Both men hope to see the completion of the projects some time this fall. Regardless, the final result will be worth waiting for. “It’s been a long time coming and a longer time getting going,” said George, “but we’re looking forward to having a place that serves the community as well as our veterans. We’ve very proud of it.”
To make a donation or for volunteer opportunities, call 925-382-5818.