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Grassroots Effort Fixes Up Veterans Memorial Building in Lompoc

Through grants and donations, the community leads the effort to restore the historic structure to its former grandeur

Alice Milligan, right, speaks during a ceremony Monday to celebrate the renovation of the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building. She also announced that the kitchen will be named for Don and Adele Ramirez, left.
Alice Milligan, right, speaks during a ceremony Monday to celebrate the renovation of the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building. She also announced that the kitchen will be named for Don and Adele Ramirez, left. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Lompoc residents celebrated the near-completion of a grassroots effort to restore the Veterans Memorial Building, a mission led by a local woman who called herself the project’s pit bull.

“There isn’t a room in this building that we haven’t touched,” said Alice Milligan, a retired educator who spearheaded the renovation efforts including rallying veterans groups to band together.

The Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building, which sits on Locust Avenue at the southern end of South H Street, was built in 1936 as a Works Progress Administration structure. 

Started seven years ago and with a cost of $1.8 million, the project involved restoring the 20,000-square-foot building to its former grandeur after what some say was years of neglect by the county.

Milligan remembered former county supervisor Joni Gray asking her to spearhead the renovation project.

“Without Alice’s vision and as president of the restoration foundation we would never have been able to accomplish this, so Alice, thank you,” Mayor Bob Lingl said.

More than 125 people attended a celebration of the project Monday and marveled at the dramatically-improved facility. 

“A job well done,” one told Milligan.

“You did a really nice job here. Nobody could have done what you did,” another visitor told Milligan.

“Oh, yeah, somebody could have. They call me a pit bull,” Milligan said.

“I remember when you started that project I said, ‘That is overwhelming’ to you,” Mary Braun later told Milligan.

An outdoor ceremony celebrated the near-completion of the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building's renovation over the past seven years. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

To complete the project, the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building Restoration Foundation formed, led by Milligan who served as the general leading the various groups of veterans that use the facility into battle.

“I’ve gotten nothing but cooperation from them,” she said.

In addition to grants, several major donors helped ensure the project could be completed.

Through the years, workers have repaired and added new roof tiles, removed asbestos on the roof, upgraded and remodeled restrooms including making the women’s facilities three times larger, replaced electrical wiring and new breaker boxes plus installed a new fire alarm system, painted the interior, added acoustical tiles to the auditorium, purchased new drapes and curtains, remodeled the kitchen with Santa Barbara County purchasing new appliances installed by Home Depot, refurbished furniture and more. 

Of course, Milligan isn’t ready to call it completed, estimating there’s still 1 percent to finish. 

She wants to add a one-person elevator so people can safely access the upstairs. She hopes to get a grant to hire an acoustic engineer to check out the noisy auditorium.

“It’s still very noisy,”she said.

She envisions adding arches to the stage despite being told it wasn’t historically accurate.

“I haven’t given up on that,” she said. 

She noted several who helped with the project, including Frank Grube, the foundation’s treasurer and author of a book, Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building.

She also announced she had county approval to name the kitchen in honor of Don and Adele Ramirez for their roles in the keeping the kitchen “sparkling like a jewel.”

"It’s their building. It’s their kitchen,” Milligan said.

More recently, the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex joined the effort, providing valuable inmate labor for the project.

Alice Milligan poses with the children and grandchildren of Lompoc federal prison inmate Fulton Leroy Washington, who painted three murals that now adorn walls in the newly renovated Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“If we had to pay for all the labor that we received from the Bureau of Prisons we just couldn’t do it. All we had to do was ask,” Milligan said, calling the inmates “delightful to work with.”

Federal prison inmate Fulton Leroy Washington also painted three murals — featuring the seals of military branches, the Honda Point naval disaster and Iwo Jima flag raising — for the facility’s Trophy Room, Banquet Room and kitchen.

Memorial building supporters offered their thanks to the inmate, who wasn't at the ceremony, “for your great ability to vision such wonderful paintings depicting America’s veterans.”

However, his children and grandchildren attended Monday’s dedication ceremony. 

Several lawmakers, including Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam and a representative of Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian presented proclamations to prison officials and the foundation.

After presenting proclamations on behalf of her boss, Joyce Howerton, aide to State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, recalled the many years Lompoc has sought to restore the building.

“I don’t think anyone could imagine that we would see the building today that we see in the condition it’s in,” Howerton, a former mayor, said.

“It is truly beautiful. This is a historic landmark that will be here, long after all of us today are gone, to honor the people that died in battle, the veterans that stood and came home and the community at large. Each and every one of us will benefit for the rest of our lives for the work this committee did and we could not be more grateful.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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