Several hundred residents crowded the sidewalks and side streets of downtown Danville on Saturday to celebrate the grand opening of the Veterans Memorial Building. The newly renovated veterans building and senior center was rededicated by Mayor Candace Andersen and Coast Guard Adm. Mary O'Donnell, along with many dignitaries and a color guard.
After more than a year and a half of construction, the $8.1 million project has reopened to San Ramon Valley residents on the corner of Hartz and Prospect Avenues. . Originally built in 1925, the expanded building will now serve several veterans groups and hold various senior activities.
"When we think of veterans, all of us have a different view that comes to mind…there is a deep gratitude that we feel for those who serve, for those who protect our freedom and for those who cannot protect themselves," Andersen said. "This is one very small way to show our gratitude to those who sacrificed so much to defend our nation. We are a community that cares."
O'Donnell called the names of 15 military heroes in attendance that served in WWII and the Korean War and described the travels of the American flag that was raised outside the building. The flag traveled around the country for five months -- including stations at the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery before coming to Danville to rest, she said.
"If it wasn't for those that came before us, we wouldn't be able to enjoy this today. For all of those that made it possible for me to be up here, I say God bless you and thank you," O'Donnell said.
After a ribbon cutting on the front steps of the original building, residents were invited inside to view renovations to the 87-year-old structure. The front of the building, which has been largely preserved, now has an elevator to provide access to all three floors, a military library with room for 1,500 tomes and a board room. Windows facing Hartz Avenue at the front of the building will become French doors opening onto a veranda.
The foyer of the building contains two memorabilia rooms with uniforms and mementos from all wars as well as photos of Valley residents who have served.
"It feels marvelous, just terrific that this dream has come to fruition. It's going to be the crown jerel, the biggest project Danville has undertaken," said Nathan Greene, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Viet Nam Veterans of Diablo Valley. Greene was among the group of veterans and residents who originally suggested a renovation of the building in 2006.
The main room, which runs along Prospect Avenue, will be able to seat 265 people when fully open, but can also be divided into three rooms for smaller events. The main room will be available for events, weddings and parties. Seniors will have a separate entrance off East Prospect Avenue, along with offices and conference rooms.
Outside the main building, facing Prospect, will be a memorial statute dedicated to Lance Cpl. Joshua "Chachi" Corral, who died in Afghanistan in November 2011. A "battlefield cross," the memorial would feature boots, a rifle and a helmet with two plaques -- one which describes the genesis of the battlefield cross and one dedicating the memorial to Chachi.
Although the structure has been able to withstand every natural disaster so far, renovations include better earthquake protection and the entire building is now ADA (American with Disabilities Act) compliant.
Danville resident Martha Miller donated money to the building in memory of her husband, Kirby, a WWII vet who used the original Vets Hall. Miller was very impressed with the building and said she may use it for senior activities.
"My husband was a Marine in the Pacific and I wanted to donate money because I wanted this to be preserved for the veterans," she said.
The Veterans Memorial Building is located at 400 Hartz Avenue. For more information, visit the town of Danville website.