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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

80 years old—VA Hospital’s future unknown

By Barry Schrader.................................August 5, 2005

My neighbor down the hall at Heritage Estates, Les Knott, just told me how the US Veterans Administration Hospital, situated atop a hill off Arroyo Road south of Livermore, got here. Les worked at the hospital for nearly 25 years before retiring in 1976.

Back in 1922 the VA was looking for a west coast location for a tuberculosis hospital for veterans. They discovered that this valley had more days of sunshine and clean air than any other place in Northern California—sunshine being the key ingredient for treating TB at that time. So they bought 235 acres, which had been part of Cresta Blanca vineyards, and built a 250-bed facility, later expanded to 350 beds and 24 buildings over the years.

The new hospital was dedicated on April 11, 1925 with California Gov. Friend Richardson and Sen. Samuel Shortridge among the 2,000 visitors in attendance that day. At the outset the hospital was exclusively for the treatment of TB and even included the first units in the western part of the country to house woman veterans. Many nurses contracted TB during the First World War and needed treatment.

During its first 35 years more than 40,000 patients received care for TB there, then the wonder drugs discovered during World War II changed the methods of treatment. The campus was expanded again in 1960 to become a general medical and surgical hospital.

The facility met a major setback in 1972 when a seismic safety study forced the closure of nearly half the buildings including the nursing home unit and reduction in patient beds down to about 190. But retrofitting and new construction restored many of the hospital services in the years after that. A new administration building was completed in 1977 and a 120-bed nursing home was added in 1980.

But in 1995 the hospital was merged with the Palo Alto VA Health Care System and lost its status as a primary medical facility. Then the federal government undertook a series of studies to close or consolidate its Veterans Administration medical facilities around the country and Livermore has been tagged for closure and/or consolidation with other Northern California facilities, including the possible loss of the nursing home.

Despite the impressive numbers including 44,601 outpatient visits in Fiscal Year 2004 and 550 admissions totaling 43,800 bed days of care that year, the feds plan a public meeting Sept. 14 to reveal their recommendations regarding its possible demise. What lies ahead for the hundreds of veteran patients and staff of 300 could be very grim in its 80th year.

If we do lose the VA Hospital on the hill, will the land be returned to viticulture, turned over to the East Bay Regional Park District, a national cemetery located there, or worst of all, sold to the highest bidder for developing more multi-million dollar homes in our pristine viticultural preserve area.

The Livermore Area Recreation and Park District has a stake in this since they purchased considerable acreage from the VA along Arroyo Road in 1967 and created Veterans Park, which includes an outdoor barbecue area constructed by volunteers from the Livermore Rotary Club. Their property includes the old Dos Mesas Winery built against the hillside and now abandoned, awaiting some enterprising vintner who will turn the building back into a historic winery and tasting room someday.

I’ll always remember the manmade Y-shaped cave dug into the hillside next to the winery, once used as a secure storage place for a field hospital and supplies in the 1950s. We got permission to use that cave in the late 1970s for a Twin Valley District Boy Scout fundraiser for some 100 people, just before the park district declared it seismically unsafe and blocked off the entrance, leaving it as an ideal refuge for bats and other subterranean creatures to this day.

* * *

The history mystery to solve this week: Radio Station KWGS in Tulsa is trying to find any descendant of Glenn Condon, a radio pioneer to be honored posthumously at an event there later this month. His last known daughter in the mid-1960s was a Mrs. Herbert Green of Livermore, plus five grandchildren. Can anyone help locate her or the grandchildren?

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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