Pierre Claeyssens

Born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium, Pierre often spoke of his childhood memories when the US Forces rescued him and his countrymen from the German occupation of World War I. He was drafted into the Belgium Army at age 21 and found himself unsuited to peacetime military life. He went on to become a trained architect and immigrated to the United States at the age of 30 with Europe on the verge of another major war. He came to Chicago in 1938 and soon moved to California, serving the growing war effort by helping to design Liberty Ships at Terminal Island. In the decades following World War II he worked as a prolific and successful architect on many schools, libraries and other public building throughout Southern California.

After being widowed he married the late Ailene Wood, an oil heiress from Santa Barbara, and was never shy about recounting how he became a multimillionaire. For the remainder of his life he unceasingly expressed his profound gratitude to the American military, both Veterans and Active Duty, with financial support and with the Annual Military Ball which was, and remains, a hosted black tie affair for Veterans and their spouses.

Pierre was a beloved figure in the world of Santa Barbara philanthropy. Though confined to a wheel chair in his later years, he is always remembered as a man who never lost his gentle outlook on life, his vitality and his enthusiasm for helping other people. Asked about his special feelings for the military he said: “I still feel an obligation to the United States, especially to the military. That’s why I am behind the idea of a Museum to honor the soldiers who died. To be killed in a war is not the worst that can happen. To be lost is not the worst. To be forgotten is the worst.”

The Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation is committed to carrying out the mission of building a world class destination Museum to carry on Pierre’s dreams that American military history will never become lost in the fog of time.

Pierre Claeyssens

Pierre Claeyssens