Highland Park General Hospital, Highland Park Michigan
The old Highland Park General Hospital Complex is an important landmark in Highland Park history, being one of the first two municipal institutions established when the people of Highland Park voted to become a city in December of 1916. Erected by the community's new city government in 1918-21, it served thereafter as a distinguished and respected health care facility in the Detroit metropolitan area until its closing in 1976. From the beginning, the operation of the hospital, together with that of the city's other fine municipal institutions, contributed a strong image of municipal independence as Detroit annexed more and more suburban territory in the surrounding vicinity. The complex developed in an integrated and coherent fashion to provide a visually prominent and monumental presence in this section of the city.
In 1916, the Highland Park Physicians' Club was established, having the expressed purpose of establishing a municipal hospital in Highland Park. At this time the community was anticipating a change in status, from village (platted in 1889) to city, a change made possible in large part by the dramatic increase in population associated with the arrival of Henry Ford's automobile manufacturing operation in 1908-10. Although Ford's new River Rouge plant, erected in 1919, superceded the Highland Park plant as Ford's primary manufacturing facility, Highland Park's reputation as a fashionable middle class community (with a population of about 45,000) was well established when it was finally incorporated as a city in 1918. As an advertisement for "North Detroit" appearing in the DETROIT FREE PRESS in December of 1916 claimed, Highland Park was even then "built almost solid." When, in the same month, the vote was taken on whether to become a city, the citizens of Highland Park not only approved this action by a margin of nearly three to one, but they also approved the funds to erect a hospital and police station at the earliest possible date. With the city of Detroit busily engaged in annexing vast areas to the north and west of the old central business/industrial core, the move by Highland Park to become an independent, self-governing city was surprising. The new hospital and the other city services to be provided thus assumed a symbolic importance as Highland Park sought to differentiate itself from the larger city which was rapidly surrounding it.
The site for the new hospital complex, a tract of land at the western edge of the city bounded by Glendale Avenue to the north and Lincoln Avenue to the east, was selected and purchased for $149,000 during the spring of 1917. Construction of a main hospital building and power plant was begun in 1918, following a temporary embargo on the sale of bonds and the construction of public buildings imposed by the federal government at the outset of United States involvement in World War I. The hospital was ready to begin serving the community on April 16, 1921.
Anticipation ran high more than a year prior to the completion of the new facility. As a DETROIT NEWS report put it, "With the opening of the new Highland Park City Hospital, the hospital facilities of Greater Detroit will be increased by 120 beds and the presence of a modern institution favorably located and fully equipped." The reporter also noted this about the site: "The institution, which is located on Glendale avenue, between Lincoln avenue and the western city limits, is far removed from the noise and dust of railroads and factories and stands on the highest ground for several miles around. There is room for two or three more units on the present site." The additions to the complex, many anticipated from the very beginning, eventually included a Nurses' Home, associated with a nurses training program at the hospital, a psychopathic unit, a contagious unit, a separate laundry facility, a west wing expansion of the main building, an outpatient wing, an addition to the Nurses' Home, and an addition to the rear of the main building to house a variety of general services.
In the summer of 1920, Dr. Willard L. Quennell, a graduate of Tufts Medical College, was engaged to serve as superintendent of nurses, Dr. D.M. Greene was chief of surgery, Dr. Hubert S. Northrup served as chief of obstetrics, and Dr. W.O. Merrill was chief of Opthamology and Otorhinolaryngology. From these early years on the medical staff of the Highland Park General Hospital enjoyed a fine reputation for the outstanding quality of the care they provided. (Among the respected names serving on the staff were Dr. Edward Vardon and Dr. Berhardt Friendlander, two surgeons of particular reknown for their surgical skills.) The hospital was also one of the first providing coronary care and intensive care units. When completed, the building possessed five operating rooms, two for general surgery, one each for obstetrics and otorhinolaryngology, and one for emergency cases. There were male and female wards, private and semi-private rooms, children's wards, and a nursery. Over the years, the commitment to high-quality health care required that these facilities be continually upgraded to reflect state-of-the-art understanding of health care standards.
The eagerly-anticipated Nurses' Home was finally ready for opening in April of 1925. The new facility, located directly to the northwest of the main hospital and designed to compliment the 1921 building, contained 100 rooms, along with a lounge reception room, library, dining room, kitchen and private laundry. The first class of nurses trained through the hospital's program, comprising nine students, was graduated in 1924.
A year and a half later, in October, 1925, the small Contagious Unit located to the rear of the complex, at the southeast, was ready for occupancy. Its sister building, the Psychopathic Unit, was opened in December. These residentially-scaled, two-story structures, detailed in a manner that visually related them to the two large buildings facing on Glendale Avenue, evidenced the then current thinking that patients with contagious and psychiatric disorders required specialized care, but within a setting separated from that of the main hospital. In 1933 the Psychopathic Unit became the home of the hospital's Out-Patient Department.
In 1929 the hospital's kitchen was renovated and "a central serving plan introduced to facilitate the serving of patients' meals and to conserve waste." Ten years later more modernization was undertaken, involving the upgrading of the original heating plant and the construction of a new, separate laundry building adjacent to it. In 1943 the planned addition of a west wing to the main hospital was announced, to be financed by the federal government as part of its war program to supplement hospital facilities in the Detroit metropolitan area. The city was to operate the hospital, and would receive ownership of the new wing following the war. Funds were also allocated for alterations to the existing building. The new wing would add 100 beds to the facility as well as new lecture rooms, and enlarged laboratories. The two-story wing, designed by Detroit architect Clair W. Ditchey to integrate aesthetically with the rest of the complex, was planned to accommodate an additional two stories if these might be desired in the future (which they eventually were, being constructed in 1954). The addition of the new wing to the 1921 building required that the Glendale Avenue facade be recomposed, to achieve a symmetrical appearance, Ditchey situated a new entrance in the center of the western projecting pavilion of the original building.
During the 1950s and 1960s the hospital complex was expanded to include a one-story outpatient wing to the northeast and facilities for a variety of services at the rear of the main building. Although "modern" in basic design treatment, the outpatient addition continued the setback of the original buildings facing on Glendale avenue, thus enhancing rather than disrupting the visual cohesion of the complex. The materials and Proportions of these last additions to the hospital complex also contributed to the visual unity of what now was a quite large physical plant.
It was not until the late 1960s that the economic prosperity of Highland Park declined sufficiently to threaten the continued operation of the Highland Park General Hospital. The 1930 census indicated a population of 52,959 in this little city of three square miles; the war years showed stable growth in the area, but the post-war period saw the beginning of a decline that was never to be reversed. Following the Detroit Riots of 1976, the white middle-class population of Highland Park began to relocate to suburban locations, causing the economic base of the community to erode still further. Highland Park, long an "enclave" within Detroit surrounded by the larger city, but independent of it and even buffered from its economic and social problems by the very fact of this political independence, thus came to share the plight of the greater metropolitan Detroit area. The completion of the last building campaign at the Highland Park General Hospital coincided with the last years of community stability before the riots.
Architecturally, the Highland Park General Hospital Complex is a readily recognizable expression of the mainstream of architectural thinking from the World War I period through World War II and the "modern" period of the 1950s and 1960s. The main building (1921), the Nurses' Home (1925), the Contagious and Psychopathic Units (1926), and the west wing addition to the main building (1944) were generated by the Same basic philosophy of design. These buildings are "traditional" in terms of their "neo-Georgian" detailing. They have also been related to one another in a highly formalized way, with the emphasis on creating a monumental whole that is clearly articulated by hierarchical relationships based on function and location. In these respects they are products of the American Beaux-Arts tradition of site planning and architectural detailing. Like many of the other buildings being erected in the United States during the 1920s-1940s, the construction technique employed is reinforced concrete frame construction and the basic floor plans are simple and utilitarian in character. These characteristics form the basis for the congenial aesthetic connection that was made when the additions of the 1950s and 1960s were made to the complex, the "modern" elements, devoid of the neo-Georgian detailing associated with the "period" designs of the pre-World War II era, but constructed using Similar materials, have much in common with the underlying simplicity and utilitarian character of the earlier hospital buildings.