100 Years Ago, Opposition to New Municipal Hospital Was a Significant Concern

A couple of weeks ago, WAMU had a nice feature that gave a history of DC General Hospital (listen to feature here), which has been in the news a lot lately due to its current use as a homeless shelter. The hospital, founded in 1806, was moved to its currently location in 1846.

One part of the segment that caught my ear was the following:

By the end of the century, there were calls to close the dilapidated hospital, and rebuild a modern facility, away from the malaria-ridden banks of the river. It would be built on high land, at 14th and Upshur Streets, amidst the new upper-middle class neighborhoods popping up in Northwest D.C.

“The citizens of Piney Branch, of Petworth, of Park View, all rose up against it. And again, in things that echo to today, ‘It doesn’t suit the neighborhood, it’s going to destroy property values.'”

So the hospital stayed put, but in 1922 it reopened in a new brick structure, replacing the old hodgepodge. The sturdy new building was rechristened Gallinger Municipal Hospital.

I was curious about this, and without spending too much time was able to locate the land referenced above.  The site, as mentioned, was at 14th and Upshur Streets, NW, and is shown below.

Proposed hospital site 1903(Site of the proposed DC General from the 1903 Baist’s real estate atlas of surveys of Washington, District of Columbia)

Building a hospital at 14th and Upshur (then called Savannah Street) appears to date  to 1902, as I found an article from April of that year that describes the new hospital including the drawing below:

New Municipal Hospital(1902 drawing of proposed hospital)

The illustration shows the front elevation of the administration building in the center, the surgery building (wing) at the left, and the pathological building (wing) at the right. Behind the administration building were to be an arrangement of the ward buildings, including four reception ward buildings, nine general ward buildings on the north side of the administration building and five general ward buildings on the south. The administration building would face east on Kansas Avenue.

In addition to the ward buildings back of the administration building there were to be the domestic service building, the power house, laundry and machine shop, a chapel, a superintendent’s house, nurse’s home and ambulance stable.

Thirteenth Street was extended to bisect the grounds. West of 13tth Street the tuberculosis hospital was planned (containing two wards) as well as the contagious hospital.

What ultimately seems to have been the undoing of the new hospital was the District Commissioners’ slow progress. When the hospital complex was proposed in 1902, little of the surrounding property had been developed, and the Citizens’ Associations that would be instrumental in preventing the project were not yet formed. In 1907, plans were going through their final revision for the tuberculosis hospital which was completed.

By 1914, much of  the surrounding area, including Park View and Petworth, had been developed and the neighborhoods had formed civic groups. As the District Commissioners again made plans to move forward with a new municipal hospital, they found staunch opposition. The fight opposing the hospital ran roughly from early 1914 through at least January of 1920.

Today, the property east of 13th Street contains the Petworth Library, Roosevelt High School, and MacFarland Middle School. The land west of 13th Street is largely occupied by Sharpe Health and Upshur Recreation Center. Three newer apartment buildings are largely on the site of the tuberculosis hospital.

Municipal Hospital(Site of the Tuberculosis Hospital from the 1919 Baist’s real estate atlas of surveys of Washington, District of Columbia)


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3 Comments on “100 Years Ago, Opposition to New Municipal Hospital Was a Significant Concern”

  1. Marcus Says:

    I love these historical snapshots you provide for all of us. Kudos to you and thank you!

  2. Sahand Says:

    I own a 1901 plan showing a proposal for “Savannah Parkway” between the Soldiers’ Home and the Hospital. It includes the creation of a circle and an avenue of trees between two lanes of traffic.

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