VA Hospital Where Holmes Died Now A Movie Set


I knew from Scott Michaels’ web site that John Holmes died at the VA Nursing Care Unit in Sepulveda, CA in March, 1988. The structure is still there, but after calling and letting it ring 100 times, a guy finally picked up to answer my questions. He said the main part of the hospital is outpatient only and that vets in the area now have to receive long-term care at the VA’s in West L.A. or Long Beach. Most of the outlying buildings are vacant or rented by private companies, like for movies and TV shows.

The lady posing in front of the sign is an activist, and that is the same sign which Scott used when telling his John Holmes mini-bio and Wonderland story. Thanks Scott!

The hospital was demolished and never rebuilt. Buildings were judged unsafe, yet today the same buildings are being rented out to movie and TV companies to film, including “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Unit.”

It was not demolished by the way. Part of the movie Argo was filmed there. In this building. The long-term care facilities around the property all look like this. The aerial view shows the buildings are now painted a pink-ish color.

Building 4 of the old Sepulveda VA Center.

Building 4 of the old Sepulveda VA Center.

Fighting for Sepulveda VA Hospital’s Return

by Dennis McCarthy | L.A. Daily News | Nov. 4, 2009

Lester and Mary Gentry made a wonderful, magnanimous gesture to the San Fernando Valley 57 years ago. The couple donated 160 acres they owned in North Hills so the government could build a veterans hospital.

So many returning World War II and Korean War veterans were settling in the San Fernando Valley to work and raise families that it only made sense to have a nearby hospital and medical treatment and care facility for them.

By 1993, with the Vietnam War adding to the caseload, more than 275,000 veterans a year were treated at Sepulveda VA.

Holmes in 1981. From "Exhausted". He had about 7 years left to live.

Holmes in 1981. From “Exhausted”. He had about 7 years left to live.

Then everything changed in 1994. We had a major earthquake.

VA officials claimed there had been too much damage done to the buildings. For safety’s sake, they would have to be torn down or left empty.

And since VA officials said it would be way too expensive to rebuild the damaged hospital, they essentially told vets to hit the 405 Freeway and take their serious medical problems to the West L.A. VA facility just a short two-hour, bumper-to-bumper drive away.

It was all a smokescreen, a chance for VA officials to save some money, downsize and gut Sepulveda.

The hospital was demolished and never rebuilt. Buildings were judged unsafe, yet today the same buildings are being rented out to movie and TV companies to film, including “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Unit.”

The VA makes millions every year renting the buildings out, but it can’t seem to find a dime to bring back lost medical services for veterans.

“I’ve got letters from producers that state clearly no production company would ever allow its cast and crew inside unsafe, unsound buildings,” says Peggy Burgess, who is rapidly becoming a major thorn in the VA’s side.

“They sent in fire and safety inspectors. Everything’s perfectly safe.”

Burgess, a member of the North Hills West Neighborhood Council, smelled a scam. In 2004, the retired businesswoman became the point person for nine other neighborhood councils and hundreds of angry vets drawing a line in the sand.

Enough is enough. Give us back our hospital.

“I’m 73 going on 100,” Burgess said Wednesday, standing outside the front of the VA, where a sign warns no emergency services are available.

But c’mon in if you want to film a movie or make a bid on some choice acreage for an apartment building.

“I swear, if this doesn’t kill me I might make it to 74,” Burgess says.

What’s got the neighborhood councils, American Legion and Disabled American Veterans officials, and local political leaders up in arms is a 75-year lease on seven acres the VA awarded to two private firms.

Initially, the plan was for them to build a 147-unit apartment building for homeless veterans and civilians.

The outcry was so bad, the lease agreement was amended so only homeless vets could move into the efficiency units.

Sounds great, right? Who doesn’t want to help out homeless vets?

But opponents point out that apartments can be built anywhere. Veterans hospitals can’t.

“The bottom line is what will serve the greater good?” Burgess says. “Utility apartments for 147 vets or two medical buildings for the more than 310,000 veterans in the service area of Sepulveda VA?

“They will soon be joined by thousands more from Iraq and Afghanistan, and they all need medical buildings, care and treatments, not apartments.”

Ralph Tillman, chief of external affairs for the VA’s Greater Los Angeles Health Care Systems, counters that “supplying permanent housing for homeless vets is a top priority of (VA Secretary Eric Shinseki).”

“This project helps the Department of Veterans Affairs meet that goal,” he said. “It is our intent that Sepulveda will remain an ambulatory care center for outpatient services, not a hospital or housing development.”

Today, what’s left of the once-thriving Sepulveda VA is an outpatient clinic, pharmacy, a nursing home, an X-ray lab, a therapy pool and a methadone dispensary.

Like the sign says, vets can’t even get emergency services anymore.

Jerry Schwartz, a Vietnam veteran, was waiting for an outpatient appointment last year at Sepulveda when he felt chest pains.

“They put me in an ambulance and sent me to the West L.A. facility. It was full, so they had to take me all the way to the Long Beach VA, where I stayed overnight.

“Thank goodness I wasn’t having a heart attack, because I would have been dead.”

This is not exactly the medical attention Lester and Mary Gentry had in mind in 1952 when they gave the VA 160 choice acres in North Hills for a veterans hospital.

Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

Advertisements