December 14, 2016

Modern hospital groundbreaking brings out Los Angeles heavy hitters

"Cement-pouring ceremonies Wednesday, November 7, at the Sunset Blvd. and Edgemont St. site in Los Angeles were participated in by (left to right) realtor Lawrence Block; Permanente Health Plan Manager Brian M, Kelly; Retail Clerks Union Local 770, President Lee Barbone; Local 770 Benefit Fund Administrator."

It wasn’t a movie premiere, but a modern, gleaming building with the latest in medical capabilities that brought out the who’s who of Los Angeles — real estate developers, hospital administrators, labor leaders, and politicians in late 1951.

When the new Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard opened its doors on June 17, 1953, it was national news. It had numerous modern features, and was a milestone in the health plan’s expansion in Southern California. Years before he became a famous TV news anchor, Chet Huntley’s radio broadcast about the opening gushed “The use of labor-saving devices, the use of light (both natural and artificial), the furnishings, the gadgets, the décor, and the personnel are all combined to make the new Kaiser Foundation Hospital something special.”

Permanente Foundation Hospital in Los Angeles, California under construction in 1953.
"Another construction view of the $2,500.000 Permanente Foundation Hospital reveals the wide area to be covered on Sunset Blvd. and Edgemont St. by the seven-story, 210-bed hospital, which will have complete surgical, obstetrical, laboratory, x-ray, pharmaceutical, and emergency facilities to serve the people of Los Angeles."

A recently processed trove of photographs of the hospital’s 1951 groundbreaking, with extended captions and a press release, shows us more about the political and urban environmental climate of Los Angeles at that time.

The corner of Sunset Boulevard and Edgemont Street certainly looks different now. Back then, it was surrounded by small two-story buildings and adjacent to the forested Barnsdall Park on Olive Hill. The Park was the former estate of Aline Barnsdall, who donated it to the city of Los Angeles and hired noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1917 to design an extensive complex of structures. It was never completed, but the site still exists as a cultural and arts center.

The commitment to building a new hospital was a major event that included the participation of Los Angeles heavy hitters - real estate developers, hospital administrators, labor leaders, and politicians.

Construction of the Permanente Foundation Hospital in Los Angeles in 1953.
"Designed by the Portland architectural firm of Wolff and Phillips, and now under construction by general contractor C.L. Peck of Los Angeles, the Permanente Foundation Hospital at Sunset Blvd. and Edgemont St. in Los Angeles is a non-profit, charitable trust of the Henry J. Kaiser family. The 210-bed hospital is being built to help alleviate the critical need for hospital beds and service in the Los Angeles area."

The press release accompanying captioned photos of the ceremonial groundbreaking November 7, 1951, told us the key facts:

City officials and heads of other hospitals in Los Angeles extended their welcome to the Permanente Foundation's new $2,500,000 hospital at ground-breaking ceremonies Wednesday afternoon, November 7, on the northeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and Edgemont Street.

Adjacent to Barnsdall Park, historic landmark of the city, the new hospital will consist of a seven-story building with 210 beds and complete surgical, obstetrical, laboratory, x-ray, pharmaceutical and emergency facilities.

The hospital, which is being built by the Foundation to help alleviate the critical need for additional hospital beds and service in the Los Angeles area, was welcomed at the ceremonies by City Councilman Ernest Debs, Methodist Hospital Administrator Walter Hoefflin, Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital Administrator Paul C. Elliot, and Cedars of Lebanon Hospital Administrator Emanuel Weisberger.

Others participating in the ceremonies were realtor Lawrence Block, who negotiated the Foundation purchase of the hospital property; Permanente Foundation Controller Paul J. Steil, and Brian M. Kelly, Permanente Health Plan Manager.

Permanente Foundation Hospital in Los Angeles, circa 1955
Map of hospital site, circa 1955.

Representing employment groups, whose participating membership in the Permanente Health Plan now totals approximately 50,000, were Joseph T. DeSilva, secretary, and Lee Barbone, president, Retail Clerks Union, Local 770, Los Angeles; A. A. Carpenter, United Steel Workers of America, Local 1845, Maywood, and W. L. Emblen, Permanente Health Plan Representative at Kaiser Steel in Fontana.

Employers' representatives attending the ground-breaking included O. G. Lawton, president of the Food Employers' Council.

The Permanente Foundation Hospital, designed by the Portland architectural firm of Wolff and Phillips, is slated for completion by Fall of 1952. C. L. Peck of Los Angeles is the general contractor.