February 16, 2018

Dust to dust: Kaiser Oakland Hospital deconstructed

Kaiser Oakland hospital demolition, Macarthur Boulevard entrance

Contributed by Lincoln Cushing, Archivist and Historian

Oakland Permanente Foundation Hospital, June 1944

Just as the country launched its defense effort during World War II, the Permanente Health Plan built a low cluster of buildings on Oakland, Calfornia’s Macarthur Boulevard to serve a growing population of Kaiser shipyard workers. A block of unremarkable buildings, where these workers received remarkable care, will be gone forever by the end of the year.

The refurbished original 4-story, 70-bed Fabiola hospital was opened August 1, 1942. A year later, a new two-story “Unit A” added 54 beds, followed by 120-bed “Unit B” in January 1945. Major remodeling in 1961 sheathed the sprawling low structures (located between Howe Street and Broadway) in aluminum siding for a modern look.

Dropping custom X-beam into Oakland Tower, January 1970

The trade publication Architect and Engineer of May, 1945, extolled the virtues of the new facility built by Cahill Brothers: "The halls are wide, clean and open to outside air and light; the reception rooms are furnished in good taste in a restrained domestic style; the patients' rooms are simple, comfortable and attractive; there are outside, lawn covered courts of ample dimensions where convalescents may rest in wheel chairs; and there are sun decks."

Other expansions followed over the years, culminated by the 12-story hospital tower which opened in 1972. Because this was added within a small footprint of available courtyard space among the low buildings, massive, custom “X-beams” were fabricated and installed.

X-beam at ground level of hospital under demolition, 2017

The “topping out” ceremony for the tower was a gala affair, with physicians and nurses signing the big steel beams at the top of the building.

I managed to snag a visit to the demolition on a recent tour of the site. Not only did we see the base of the exotic “X-beam,” but we also looked at what appears to be the topping out beam, emblazoned with a bold “KAISER STEEL” logo.

Now, dust returns to dust in the difficult and tedious process of deconstruction. A humble facility that served thousands of home front workers during World War II has completed its mission. The hospital and specialty care facility across the street, opened in 2014, has picked up the scalpel.

Man and woman at construction site wearing hard hats and writing on an I beam
RNs Pat Bayliss and Madeline "Tex" Ruffato signing "topping out" I-beam for Oakland Hospital, 1971
I beam with the word KAISER in red letters
"Topping out" I beam, Oakland hospital, 2017