May 31, 2016

Clarence Mayhew — early Kaiser Permanente architect

Dr. Sidney Garfield and architect Clarence Mayhew looking at illustration of planned Panorama City hospital, circa 1965

Mayhew's career began in 1922 as a draftsman at the San Francisco firm of Arthur Brown, Jr.. He traveled abroad to study at Paris’ Ecole des Beaux-Arts between 1922 and 1925, and returned to the Francisco Bay Area, where he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley School of Architecture in 1927.

He remained in the Bay Area began a long and distinguished career. Mayhew designed homes, including two in scenic Big Sur and Los Angeles for Lucille and David Packard (co-founder of the multinational information technology company Hewlett-Packard). Among his institutional commissions were the Aurelia Henry Reinhardt Alumnae House at Mills College (Oakland, Calif.), the Alumni House at U.C. Berkeley, and a racetrack in Lima, Peru.

But it was his design of early Permanente Foundation hospitals that is the foundation of his legacy.

Planning for Health newsletter 1952-10
Sketch of future Walnut Creek Medical Center, Planning for Health newsletter October, 1952

Mayhew’s first Permanente hospital was the 76-bed Walnut Creek Medical Center, which opened in April, 1953, one year after the flagship Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles hospital. Dr. Garfield was listed as “functional designer and medical consultant.” It, and the subsequent Kaiser Permanente Fontana Hospital, were part of a “small city” hospital movement; the larger and more urban Kaiser Permanente hospitals in San Francisco and Los Angeles were called “dream hospitals.”

A short newsclip about this facility can be seen here.

Walnut Creek, along with Los Angeles and San Francisco (opened August 1953), were considered marvels of hospital design. Kaiser Permanente’s member newsletter Planning for Health of October 1952 gushed about its charms:

Detail from article on Kaiser Walnut Creek Medical Center, Architectural Forum, July, 1954.
"Today's Most Talked About Hospital..." detail from article on Kaiser Walnut Creek Medical Center, Architectural Forum, July, 1954.

Many unusual innovations have been incorporated to make the hospital outstanding in the service it will render. The usual central corridor has been converted into a private corridor for nurse, doctor and employees, with a nurse's station located for approximately each eight beds. This keeps the public away from the service area and bring the nurse, supplies and equipment in close proximity to the patient for more efficient care. Visitors reach the rooms via an outer corridor. Each patient enjoys a private or semiprivate room enclosed on one side with glass, affording the patient a pleasant view of landscaped grounds and trees.

Another progressive feature is the maternity wing. Here the central nursery has been eliminated and replaced with an individual nursery behind the bed-wall. At any time the mother, or visitors, can view the baby through a glass window beside the bed while the baby is actually attended by the nurse. Whenever the mother wants her baby beside her, she need only pull out the bassinet and her baby is there.

Even more impressively, the hospital was featured in an eight-page article in the July 1954 issue of Architectural Forum. It was titled “Today’s Most Talked-About Hospital…for four good reasons,” which it articulated:

  1. Its architecture is part of the cure
  2. Its corridors are actually long workrooms
  3. Its bedrooms are designed for patient self-help, and
  4. Its economics make it self-supporting at low rates.

Although many of those functional features were Dr. Garfield’s ideas, the aesthetics of the design were credited to Mayhew: “Note the easygoing grace with which Architect Mayhew has imbued a necessarily machine like plan.”

Hospital design is sort of a hobby of mine.

 

Immediately on the heels of Walnut Creek were two smaller facilities built in 1954, one at a remote World War II Kaiser Steel coal mining location in Dragerton, Utah, and the other as a civic expansion of the hospital in the city of Fontana, Calif., where Henry J, Kaiser’s wartime steel mill was located.

Architectural plans showing alterations and additions to Dragerton, Utah hospital
Detail, 1953 alterations and additions to Dragerton, Utah hospital, (Center Street, Third Street, and Whitmore Drive.)

Although a Permanente health plan was never established in the region, the hospital remained as Utah Permanente Hospital until 1966. However, this commitment to serving working people would eventually re-emerge as a plea for expansion from stakeholders in Colorado, which Kaiser Permanente began to do in 1969.

I am advised that last month alone some 9,000 to 10,000 people visited the existing clinic now at the steel plant. The overcrowded condition is constantly a problem… In our opinion, not to build the clinic in the City of Fontana would be like building a beautiful automobile without an engine.

Architectural drawing, Fontana Kaiser Foundation Hospital
Architectural drawing, Fontana Kaiser Foundation Hospital, 9961 Sierra Ave., completed 1954. Clarence Mayhew, architect.

The San Bernardino County Sun published an article August 19, 1954, announcing a three-day open house:

The Kaiser Foundation’s newest "hospital of the future," bringing to the Fontana area the last word in comfort and efficiency for patients and the hospital staff, will be introduced to the public next week.

The new medical facilities, initially containing 42 beds, are located on a 15-acre site at 9961 Sierra Ave., corner of Marygold Ave. They will complement the existing 88-bed Foundation hospital at the nearby steel mill of Kaiser Steel Corp., which donated $300,000 to help finance the new structure. The hospital, in the center of the expanding Fontana-Bloomington-Rialto-Etiwanda area of 60,000 population, is a community hospital open to the general public and to all qualified physicians and their patients, as well as Kaiser Foundation Health Plan members.

The one-story, "T" shaped building, of steel construction and utilizing vast amounts of glass, is the second of the Foundation's concept of the ideal "small city" hospital.

Three hospitals in two years — that’s a pretty remarkable pace. But Mayhew was just getting started.

Read more: More California hospitals 1955-1973: Harbor City, Panorama City, and San Rafael.