On January 17, 1994, a 6.7 earthquake with a San Fernando Valley epicenter caused widespread damage throughout Los Angeles. The earthquake renewed concerns about building safety and codes; specifically, for hospitals. Before then, LA’s General Hospital was located at 1200 State Street, in one of Downtown’s most famous and iconic buildings. A building most famous for its 80-ton façade known to millions of “General Hospital” soap opera fans in the opening credits. But the story of General Hospital and this landmark building goes back further than that.
The health care system in Los Angeles county began in 1856. Members of the Charity of St. Vincent DePaul opened an 8-bed facility in what would later become St Vincent’s Hospital. In 1878, the county opened its first hospital and poor farm as a way of lowering costs to the county for indigent care. It had 100 beds, a staff of 6 and a $4,000 budget. In 1885, the hospital affiliated with the USC Medical School, an affiliation that is still in place today.
In the 1920s, with growing rates of infectious diseases Los Angeles decide a new hospital was needed. This new hospital was to be designed by Allied Architects’ Association of Los Angeles, a leading group of architects at the time. They had also designed the hall of Justice building located at 211 W Temple St, another iconic LA Downtown structure, built in 1925.
The hospital was financed by a $5 million bond that narrowly passed in 1923, and later augmented by a 10-cent property tax surcharge to acquire the land, which sits in the footprint of both the 10 and 5 freeways. It is perched on a hilltop, in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood, and has almost a million-square-foot of space.
The massive Art Deco, depression-era structure has 20 stories, 19 floors and took $12 million and six years to complete. The world-famous entrance façade includes imposing concrete statues by Salvatore Cartaino Scarpitta. These statutes include the Angel of Mercy, who comforts an infirm couple and Western medicines great minds: Pasteur, Harvey, Vesalius, Hippocrates, Galen, and Hunter.
The foyer includes wonderful ceiling murals by artist Hugo Ballin, who also painted the interior of the Los Angeles Times Building and the Griffith Observatory.
Beginnings of the end
On January 17, 1994, a 6.7 earthquake with San Fernando Valley epicenter, caused widespread damage throughout Los Angeles. The earthquake renewed concerns about building safety and codes; specifically, for hospitals.
With these concerns, the California Hospital Seismic Safety Law was signed into law on September 21, 1994. The combination of aging facilities, equipment, and the new law, forced prominent building into retirement from hospital use.
Needing a substitute to the existing building, the county decided a new complex would be built in the nearby location of 2051 Marengo Street. The new hospital is a $1 billion complex with three linked buildings: a clinic tower, a diagnostic and treatment tower, and an inpatient tower, in total supporting 600 patient beds.
You can visit the old hospital, which is now the Wellness Center and open Monday – Friday. The Wellness Center vision is to “…inspire and empower residents and patients to take control of their own health and wellbeing.” Don’t feel like a drive, you can still catch it on TV as well!!
Either way, the good news is that through television or in person, we can still be inspired by this Downtown landmark today and for many years to come !!