The War Memorial Veterans Building and its sister, the Opera House, were completed in 1932 as a living memorial to the World War I Veterans. The Memorial Grove, between the buildings, is a living tribute to those who died in World War I.
Arthur Brown, the chief architect for the buildings, also designed City Hall and the Federal Building, now, UN Plaza. G. Albert Lansburgh served as collaborating architect. The Veterans Building opened at 11am on November 11, 1932. The cost of both the Opera and Veterans buildings was $6,125,000. The buildings have identical exteriors and are constructed from California materials. The simplicity of each lobby is off set by the elegance of the ceiling, which is vaulted and coffered, with rosettes in gold leaf.
Five lobby chandeliers were removed in 1935 by the Museum of Modern Art and a false ceiling was installed and painted white to cover the offending gold leafed rosettes. The torchiers and chandeliers of the Veterans Building are identical to those in the Opera house and City Hall; they were designed by Brown and cast in Oakland.
The Veterans Building continues to serve the Veterans community by housing many local American Legion Posts and Veterans organizations, such as, the Veterans Media Center of San Francisco, the Veterans Success Center, Veterans For Peace, AMVETS, as well as, providing space for events that serve and benefit the Veterans Community. The Veterans Building, also, houses the Performing Arts Center offices and the Museum of Modern Art. The Veterans Auditorium was renovated in 1985 and renamed the Herbst Theater; the library for Veterans was renovated into, what is now, the Green Room.
The Court of Memory links the two sister buildings; the Court is enclosed by gilded and painted gates that were inspired by the entries to Versailles, where the Peace Treaty (Armistice) was signed in 1918. Thomas Church, the famous California landscape architect, designed the court and its plantings. The plants in front are Pittasporum Undulatim; the trees in the court are Sycamore, or plane trees; the borders are Japanese Boxwood; and the ground cover is Franciscan Ivy.
The United Nations Charter was signed in the Veterans Auditorium (now, Herbst Pavilion) in June of 1945, and earth from each of the original 51 signatory countries was ceremoniously incorporated in the earth of Memory Court. Later earth from American military cemeteries was also incorporated.
(The above information excerpted from a paper prepared by the Women’s Army Corps Veterans Association, San Francisco Chapter 44; the paper was presented by Mary Goodsell, President, January 1988)