50 YEARS OF SERVICE VA HOSPITAL MARKS GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY.
NORTH HILLS - Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Sepulveda VA hospital, officials on Wednesday unsealed a time capsule that represented a half-century of health care for San Fernando Valley veterans.
Veterans and their families looked on as hospital officials cracked open a wall, removed the capsule and revealed 31 items that were stored there in 1980 at a 25th-anniversary celebration. The capsule contained photos of the anniversary cake, a 1955 film of the hospital's dedication, newspaper articles on the opening, slides of volunteers and the patients' newsletter.
``It meant a great deal to me,'' said Navy veteran Joseph Fleischman, 77, of North Hills, a patient with bipolar disorder who has used the hospital since 1980. ``My illness has crippled me for the past 20 (years) to 30 years.''
Other items in the capsule included a picture of the raising of the 25th anniversary flag, copies of newspapers - including the Valley Green Sheet, which became the Daily News - from that day, a picture of a plaque being presented to the original employees, slides of volunteers in the hospital and a history of the hospital.
The $20 million hospital opened April 17, 1955, on a former chicken ranch. It helped usher in a new era in psychiatric care, offering medical and surgical inpatient and outpatient services. It grew from 650 patients to more than 1,000.
Today it is a full-time ambulatory-care center with about 100 nursing- home beds.
Martin Light, 72, who served in the Korean War as an airplane mechanic in the Air Force, still volunteers at the hospital, setting up bingo games for other veterans. He said the ceremony was an important reminder that veterans are still around.
``It's important to let people know that we're here, that we're still alive and well,'' he said. ``It's a view of the past and a dedication of the future to maintain services for the veterans.''
Howard Cooperman, 63, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, retired recently after working for 42 years for the agency that was the Veterans Administration until it reached Cabinet level, with the full title Department of Veterans Affairs, in 1989.
``It was great just to see a lot of people, who have come back to see this, and realize that Sepulveda is still around and in people's memories,'' said Cooperman, a Granada Hills resident. ``Sepulveda is still here. There's still services for the (veterans). Sepulveda is not going anywhere.''
The hospital survived critical damage during the 6.7-magnitude Northridge Earthquake in 1994. The quake forced the closure of inpatient services and the gymnasium, but the facility was eventually renovated and reopened.
Jason Kandel, (818) 713-3664
(1 -- 2) Opened on Wednesday, a time capsule held mementos of the Sepulveda VA hospital's first 25 years and forecasts of a 50th anniversary in 2005. Below, Donna Beiter, left, and Martha Stewart Waite look at a film about the hospital's April 1955 opening.
Evan Yee/Staff Photographer