The Green Room, an affordable and elegant reception area in the War Memorial Veterans Building, has been lightened up and refreshed. (Leslie Katz/S.F. Examiner)

Renovated War Memorial Veterans Building reopens with dedication ceremony

San Francisco city officials and veterans gathered on Wednesday to celebrate and rededicate the War Memorial Veterans Building, the Civic Center’s historic 1932 Beaux Arts structure newly gleaming as a result of a $156 million renovation.

Tom Horn of the War Memorial Board of Trustees headed up a noontime ceremony attended by Mayor Ed Lee, Board of Supervisors President London Breed, War Memorial Trustees President Wilkes Bashford, city administrator Naomi Kelly, city architect Edgar Lopez, Cmmdr. Nelson Lum of the American Legion, and Maj. Gen. Michael Myatt.

Horn and Bashford pointed to the municipal building’s unique and varied purposes, serving as a home for veterans organizations and as an arts complex with public and performing arts spaces (San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, Green Room and Herbst Theatre) and offices for the San Francisco Arts Commission and Grants for the Arts.

Later this year, San Francisco Opera is slated to move to the building’s fourth floor, where it will have offices and performances spaces.

Although construction work (including seismic, energy efficiency, accessibility, acoustic and preservation upgrades), didn’t get under way until 2012, planning for the project began in the wake of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, when the building temporarily housed government workers (Breed and Kelly among them, working under then-Mayor Willie Brown) while City Hall was being retrofit.

Lee called the people who worked on the renovation “not construction workers, but artists,” and commended public works department staffers who “put their best foot forward” on the world-class building. Noting that 33 percent of the businesses involved were San Francisco locals, he added, “Every possible goal on this project was exceeded.”

Lopez acknowledged contractor Charles Pankow Builders and 29 subcontractors, thanking them for structural work that can’t be seen, as well as excellent attention to detail in maintaining the building’s historic character.

Breed, who remembered a “dark and dingy” space while working as an intern in the building, said she looked forward to filling it with the “spirit of love and happiness” and effusively thanked the several dozen veterans in attendance, as did Kelly.

Lum, of the American Legion, said the project “sets a shining example of what the city can accomplish” while Myatt, a former trustee, said the building honors the memory and is an “expression of gratitude to all San Francisco veterans” on the occasion of the centennial of World War I.

An open house showcasing the renovations followed the ceremony; additional open house hours are slated for Friday and Saturday.

War Memorial Veterans Building Open House
Where: 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 3:30 to 5 p.m. Sept. 18, 10 a.m. to noon Sept. 19
Admission: Free (registration requested)

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